UC nursing PhD candidate remembered with scholarship for international students

A classmate of the late Louis Gamba Ti Banguima set up the new fund in his honor

By: Katie Coburn

Louis Gamba Ti Banguima dreamt of opening a medical clinic in the Central African Republic so he could help people in his home country. After all, he entered the nursing field 12 years ago so that he could help take care of people.

The 45-year-old was working toward this goal and on track to earn his PhD from the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing when he passed away from a brief, serious illness in May 2021. With the help of his advisor, who video conferenced Banguima from his hospital bed, Banguima achieved PhD candidacy before he passed. Now, to honor his legacy, a dear friend and former classmate is launching the Louis Gamba Ti Banguima Memorial Dissertation Award Fund, which will support international students pursuing a PhD in nursing at UC.

A journey rife with obstacles

Louis Gamba Ti Banguima with Bearcat at orientation

Louis Gamba Ti Banguima with Bearcat at orientation in 2016

Despite not having a car, a job or even a place to live, Banguima immigrated to the U.S. in 2006 to pursue a successful engineering career. He spent the last of his money on a plane ticket from West Africa to Cincinnati after receiving a visa through a U.S. government lottery program. Though he arrived with a dual master's in physics and chemistry on top of a bachelor's in civil engineering, his inadequate English skills — he was a native French speaker — prevented him from landing an engineering gig. Eventually, Banguima received a Social Security number, found an apartment and got a job as a mail sorter. Meanwhile, he attended English classes at a local vocational school and, in 10 months, started a new job that ignited his passion for nursing: providing care for developmentally disabled residents at a group home. Over the next six years, he earned his State Tested Nursing Assistant license and Licensed Practical Nurse degree from Cincinnati State Career & Technical College, followed by his Bachelor of Science in Nursing at UC. In May 2017, after spending two years pursuing a master's in nursing, Banguima began his PhD journey at UC to become a nurse scientist.

I'm inspired by him. He's opened my eyes to the things that people sacrifice to pursue their dreams.

Kelly Stacy, PhD

Legacy lives on at UC and beyond

One classmate who Banguima grew particularly close with was Kelly Stacy. "He was like a brother to me," says Stacy, who worked closely with Banguima as a fellow graduate assistant and often invited him to join her family gatherings. "He had such a big heart and was such a dedicated student."

Stacy, who earned her PhD in August, wanted to honor Banguima's dedication to his studies by creating a fund that would reduce barriers for international students who face challenges similar to those Banguima experienced. In June, she created The Louis Gamba Ti Banguima Memorial Dissertation Award Fund to help international students in UC’s nursing college offset the cost of completing their dissertation in pursuit of their PhD.

"Louis was so excited by learning. He was constantly trying to think of new research ideas and further his education," Stacy says. "He was even working on his nursing practice degree on the side because he felt it would be useful when he went home to the Central African Republic to start a clinic in his hometown. I'm inspired by him. He's opened my eyes to the things that people sacrifice to pursue their dreams."

As of December, donors have pledged $25,000 to the Louis Gamba Ti Banguima Memorial Dissertation Award Fund. Stacy aims to fundraise an additional $25,000 so the college can establish an endowed fund in Banguima's name. To support the cause and help honor Banguima, please visit foundation.uc.edu.

Classmates Remember Banguima

"Louis and I lived in the same apartment complex and we would rideshare to campus. He was very caring and compassionate. I remember how dedicated he was to help the people in his country obtain educational resources. He was collecting books in his apartment to send to his home country to build up the library. I miss his spirit and laugh. He was a wonderful person and friend."

— Jerome Wray

"He was truly an inspiring person. I was and still am amazed at how much Louis was able to accomplish in this country. Being an African immigrant myself, I have an appreciation for how much work and sheer determination it took Louis to move from a French-speaking country, learn the English language from scratch, and attain the highest academic honors in his field in the U.S. Despite his achievements, Louis remained very humble and true to himself. He often talked about going back home one day to the Central African Republic to give back and help his community. He is dearly missed."

— Cleopatra (Cleo) Kum

"Louis was committed to a life of learning. There wasn't an obstacle he couldn't overcome. He was a sincere friend, and his passion for improving the health and wellbeing of others was contagious. He made the world a better place. I am honored to have been in a PhD cohort with him. His perspective and encouragement will stay with me for a lifetime."

— Holly Meyer

"Louis was a true Renaissance Man who was deeply spiritual. He was successful in all he set out to accomplish with a great deal of integrity and a work ethic that was wonderful to behold. He was a true friend who was always willing to offer his expertise and precious time to work on challenging PhD requirements. Our cohort family was very fortunate to have him as one of our 'brothers.' He had an infectious laugh and beautiful smile, which always filled you with warmth when it was directed your way. I will miss my brother and angel-friend. I have been blessed that he was a part of my life's journey ... if only for a while."

— Barbara E. Bodnarik

"Louis was an extraordinarily hard-working person. He was always expressing his sense of humor to cope with stress and the difficult moments he faced during his journey as an immigrant. He always encouraged international students in the PhD program to pursue their dreams and goals. He knew the pain of being alone as an immigrant in a foreign land. He was a heart-warming and empathetic friend. He will be missed."

— Ayse Guler

Featured image at top: Louis Gamba Ti Banguima (top row, fourth from left) with classmates in his PhD cohort at UC College of Nursing