Master of Science in Analytics (MScA) student Tobel Eze-Okoli learned this September that she was selected by Forbes as a 30 Under 30 Scholar, an honor that will allow her to attend for free the annual 30 Under 30 Summit to be held in Detroit on October 27–30.
Now in its sixth year, the Forbes Summit brings together entrepreneurs, political leaders, celebrities, educators, and other still-youthful cultural icons that exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for a weekend of talks, concerts, and networking opportunities.
“I’m really excited to have been selected,” Tobel said. “I’m looking forward to speaking with leaders in technology and hearing about the challenges they’ve overcome and risks they’ve taken in their careers.”
Originally from Nigeria, Tobel graduated from Ashesi University in Ghana in 2017 with a degree in managerial information systems already certain she wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial path. Following lessons learned from an entrepreneurship club she encountered during a semester abroad at Macalester College in Minnesota, she saw an opportunity to support student entrepreneurs at her home university by co-founding the first business incubator.
“After graduating, I felt my head bursting with ideas and I wanted to develop the skills that would help me put them into place.”
“After graduating, I felt my head bursting with ideas and I wanted to develop the skills that would help me put them into place,” she said. “That’s when I started looking for possible data science programs. I saw the MScA program as a great program at a great university and for those reasons I chose to leave my stable life at home and come here to Chicago.”
As a 30 Under 30 Scholar, she hopes to speak with and learn from leaders who have taken similarly far-reaching steps in their lives and careers. Having braced herself for the challenge of a new and unknown environment before arriving in 2018, she had hoped that her international experience during college would provide her with at least a relatively smooth landing.
“I was prepared to be taken outside my comfort zone,” she said. “And the experience certainly has done that, only not exactly in the ways I anticipated. For instance, my experience so far has been that there aren’t many black women pursuing data science. That surprised me. I definitely hope to encourage more involvement in the future.”
Data science, she notes, is still a relatively new field in Nigeria and she had not fully understood the enormous scope of its application until she started the MScA program. That was an exciting discovery and one that has challenged her to think and see the world in new ways. She also describes the challenges of navigating American culture and everything she quickly had to learn once she arrived.
"I’ve really come to see the rewards that come from networking. Not just the contacts I’ve made and the opportunities they’ve pointed me to—like the 30 Under 30 Scholar opportunity—but I’ve come to love sharing my interests with other people and working together to develop new ideas."
“I’m an introvert,” she says, “but from talking with people and sharing ideas with them I’ve definitely come to enjoy being with others. In fact, I’ve really come to see the rewards that come from networking. Not just the contacts I’ve made and the opportunities they’ve pointed me to—like the 30 Under 30 Scholar opportunity—but I’ve come to love sharing my interests with other people and working together to develop new ideas.”
Though she knows she will return to Nigeria some day with the goal of starting a successful company, Tobel’s not quite sure when that day will be yet. She already plans to earn her MBA after completing the MScA program.
“I’m only 22,” she says. “I still have so much to learn. And there are so many directions for me to grow in. Being at the University of Chicago in the MScA program—and now having the opportunity to attend the Forbes Summit as a 30 Under 30 Scholar—there’s so much happening in my life and I’m trying to take as much in as I can.”