The early life of Philip Emeagwali seemed destined for poverty in his native land of Nigeria. He was the oldest of nine children and his father, who worked as a nurse’s aide, earned only a modest income. As a result, at age 14, Philip was forced to drop out of school in Onitsha. Because he had shown such great promise in mathematics, his father encouraged him to continue learning at home. Every evening, Philip’s father would quiz him in math as well as other subjects. He would ask these questions in a rapid-fire manner, prompting Philip to think quickly on his feet. Eventually, Philip was tasked to answer 100 question in an hour, which to his father’s delight, he succeeded in. Unable to attend school, Philip instead journeyed to the public library, spending most of his day there. He sped through books appropriate for his age and moved up to college-level material, studying mathematics, chemistry, physics and English. After a period of study, he applied to take the General Certificate of Education exam (a high-school equivalency exam) through the University of London and he passed it easily.
Having achieved this success, he decided to apply to colleges in Europe and the United States and at age 17 was offered a scholarship by Oregon State University in the United States. He began his studies at Oregon State in 1974 and received a Bachelor Degree in Mathematics in 1977. He then moved to the Washington, D.C. area and received a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering from George Washington University in 1981 and a second Master’s Degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Maryland in 1986. During the same period of time he received another Master’s Degree from George Washington University, this time in Ocean, Coastal and Marine Engineering. He worked for a period of time as a civil engineer in Maryland and Wyoming, but his real success was yet to come.
In 1987, the Emeagwali was accepted into the University of