When Zim Ugochukwi first entered the halls of UNCG, she might not have planned on making a huge difference in the lives of others. However, making a difference is exactly what she has done, and the difference is indescribable. Her dedication to others and service to underserved communities continues, now reaching a global scale.
As an undergraduate student majoring in biology, Ugochukwi made significant impacts in both her field and her community. She discovered and characterized a fruit fly gene astoundingly similar to a protein found in humans which, if absent in their genetic code, can lead to a rare but serious birth defect. Ugochukwi also created the Ignite Greensboro Project, a student-led, student-built and student-run project that hoped to reestablish interest, activism and a sense of obligation to the community of Greensboro. The organization gathered students from several Greensboro colleges and universities and reignited the need for grassroots activism and community involvement among college-aged students. Ignite Greensboro won a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro in August 2009 and Ugochukwi was recognized for her leadership with a National Student Leader Award from Washington, D.C.
Ugochukwi was also the first Luce Scholar, a prestigious award which fully funded a year of work and professional development for her post-graduation in Bangalore, India. It was there that Ugochukwi’s desire to inspire activism and social change took a global turn. While working for Ashoka India—a company which helps young social entrepreneurs—Ugochukwi truly noticed that the travel narratives she had always seen—on television, in magazines, on travel websites or in travel books—did not represent her or others like her. Undeterred, Ugochukwi decided to create a community for black travelers like herself, who remain underrepresented and underserved by the travel industry.
That community is Travelnoire.com, a website and online community she pioneered and still runs, which has been praised and covered through national media including Ebony.com, Blackenterprise.com, Good Morning America and CBS Morning News. Simultaneously a travel planning website and resource database for experienced travelers and novices alike. More importantly, however, it gives a critical platform to black travelers and jetsetters. It gives them a place to write their stories, share their experiences and knowledge, and remind the rest of the travel industry that this group is here, has always been here and will remain here.
Zim Ugochukwi has been featured in Glamour Magazine’s Most Influential Women issue and has been recognized on Oprah for her work inspiring and encouraging black and other minority travelers to share their experiences and find communities of their own.
By Michelle Danner