Community Service in Pittsburgh: An Interview with PULSE Fellow Esu Obu

Nov 02, 2022

Esu Obu has traveled around the world conducting research on agriculture and food science. After completing her Master’s degree in Europe, Esu realized that she wanted to apply the skills and knowledge she gained abroad to solving domestic issues in the US. Her desire to serve communities back home in America led her to the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE) Fellowship.

The PULSE Fellowship is a year-long professional development program that partners recent college graduates with nonprofits throughout the city of Pittsburgh for a year of service and leadership. Selected applicants live in community with other Fellows, receive mentorship and support from professionals at their host organization, and attend workshops and retreats focused on professional development.

We recently spoke with Esu to learn more about her experience as a PULSE Fellow, as well as how she used the free ProFellow Database to win this opportunity, in addition to a fully funded Master’s degree in Belgium.

Tell us about your educational background. What were your academic interests, and how did you find ProFellow?

I have been interested in learning about science and international cultures since my childhood. By the time I reached high school, I started considering how I could apply my interests to help others. During the summer of my sophomore year, I participated in an extracurricular student ambassador trip to Italy, France, Monaco, and England, an experience that solidified my desire to have a career with an international footprint. 

My journey in food systems started at my “agricultural” high school in Maryland where I took a nutrition elective (a.k.a. a cooking class) and learned about majors related to it. I saw Food Science as a multidisciplinary subject that nurtured my passion for food and wellness on a global scale. 

I went on to earn my Bachelor’s degree in Food Science with a minor in Nutrition & Health at Cornell University. While there, I took advantage of as many opportunities as possible to travel abroad. This included a semester in Italy and an Agribusiness course in Chile. 

I then began my professional career by working in a variety of roles in the consumer packaged goods sector of the food industry. At the time, I was interested in learning about industry governance and enrolled as a part-time student in a master’s program for Regulatory Science at Johns Hopkins University. While studying part-time and working full-time, I considered the next steps of my academic career and explored options to earn a doctoral degree abroad. ProFellow was instrumental in presenting an array of opportunities for my next step.

You started seeking funding opportunities through the free ProFellow Database. What types of opportunities were you looking for, and how did this search eventually lead you abroad?

When I started using ProFellow, I was looking for fully or partially funded PhD opportunities in Europe. Initially, my search was extremely narrow; but with time, I realized that broadening my search would allow me to explore opportunities that would be a great fit for my skills and career goals. 

My search eventually led me to a generous master’s fellowship opportunity in Belgium, a country that hadn’t previously been on my radar. In order to be selected for the fellowship, I had to first be admitted to a university in Belgium. While I did gain acceptance to a university, I was ultimately not selected for the funding I had my heart set on. 

But as fate would have it, I ended up qualifying for and earning a financial award through the Flemish government in Belgium. The funding was substantially more than the fellowship I had originally sought. ProFellow opened the door to a wealth of opportunities.

Most recently, you applied and were accepted to the PULSE Fellowship. What drew you to this opportunity, and what has the experience been like so far?

Being abroad fueled my desire to support my community at home, so I sought opportunities that focused on local community leadership. Through the ProFellow Database, I found the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience (PULSE), which facilitates immersion into the non-profit sector and happens to be based in a city where my brother is attending university. I was interested in this fellowship because being in Pittsburgh would enable me to reconnect with my family and intentionally serve a community in the US. For me, being in an urban environment and living with fellows in the same cohort were also some appealing aspects of the fellowship. 

As a PULSE fellow, I’ve been paired with a non-profit organization, Vibrant Pittsburgh. My work centers on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the workplace and throughout Pittsburgh. I’m really enjoying the team I work with at Vibrant Pittsburgh and the other PULSE Fellows that I live with. With them, I have been able to enjoy a lot of the sports, arts, food, music, and scenery the city has to offer. On a personal level, I’ve been challenged to broaden and refine a number of my perspectives and values. There is rarely a dull moment, and when there is, I cherish it to recharge.

What advice do you have for other young professionals who may be browsing the ProFellow Database?

Quite simply, keep an open mind when browsing the ProFellow Database and take your time. Coming from someone who moves with a sense of specificity and urgency, this can be challenging. Deadlines and opportunities come and go (and some come again). As long as you’re being proactive in your search, you can and will find worthwhile personal and professional advancement.

Esu Obu graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and a minor in Nutrition and Health, and also earned a Master of Science in Nutrition and Rural Development at Ghent University in Belgium as a Master Mind Scholar. Esu has served Kesho Congo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in Rome, and the University of Maryland, and Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture (WANDA) in Washington, DC. As a PULSE Fellow, Esu serves as the Talent Engagement and Community Relations Coordinator at Vibrant Pittsburgh.

Inspired by Esu’s story? Get more fellowships and funding from another ProFellow success story in our recent interview with Julie Gardella.

© ProFellow, LLC 2022, all rights reserved.