Nursing student returns from yearlong deployment to Africa to graduate on time
Name: Esther Mayowa Olajide
College: College of Nursing
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Hobbies/interests: Dancing, reading, exercising, DIY projects/YouTube-ing, cooking.
Clubs and Organizations: East Carolina Association of Nursing Students, Multicultural Student Nurses’ Association, Holistic Health Organization
Favorite hangout: My peaceful apartment
Favorite place on campus: Student Rec Center
Favorite place to eat: Sam Jones BBQ
Favorite class: Pathophysiology
Professor who influenced you the most: Mrs. Jones
Favorite TV show: “The Blacklist”
Favorite band/musician: Burna Boy
Favorite movie: “The Black Panther”
Dream job: Travel nurse practitioner
Role models: My parents
Your words to live by: Growth may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary.
What advice do you have for other students? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Someone else is probably thinking it, so you’re not alone.
What is something cool about ECU that you wish you during your first year? The plethora of resources that are readily available for use!
Esther Olajide will walk across the stage as a Pirate nurse, having completed all the requirements of her bachelor’s in nursing science degree: research papers, end of semester exams, day after day of clinical rotations.
However, Olajide had an extra challenge that none of her peers shared before being able to turn her tassel — nearly a year in military uniform supporting counterterrorism missions on the east coast of Africa.
Olajide and her family moved from Nigeria to Charlotte when she was old enough to be completely culture shocked by the change in just about every part of her life.
Language wasn’t an issue, though. Olajide grew up speaking both English and Yoruba, the language of her people — the more than 5 million Yoruba who live mostly in Nigeria but some in the U.S. as well.
Olajide studied at an early middle college during her junior and senior years of high school, and then completed a “13th year.” When she graduated from the program, she had two full years of college completed.
Like many young people, Olajide wasn’t ready for a full-time college experience immediately after graduation — she had some things to figure out, a bit of life to live. She was the last person that her friends and family would expect to join the military, but something about the ability to help others in uniform called to her. She enlisted in the Navy with the hopes of training to be a corpsman — a medic — to get on the path to being a Navy nurse.
Instead, she was trained as a logistician, graduating at the top of her class.
“It was kind of scary at first because you think the military is for fighting, but that’s not all it is. This is an opportunity to be a naval officer. I can be a nurse and I also wanted to travel and see things,” she said.
After a few cold months of boot camp in Chicago, Olajide was back in Charlotte looking for the next step in her adventure. A friend said she was going to East Carolina University in the fall of 2019, which sounded like a good idea. With two years of college classes already under her belt, nursing school seemed well in hand.
By the fall of 2020, Olajide was accepted to the College of Nursing and taking courses in Greenville. In the summer of 2019, the Navy told her to get ready for a possible deployment. In the fall of 2021, her third semester of nursing school, the orders came through. She would spend the next 10 months in Djibouti, where the U.S. military was pushing back against insurgents who were disrupting the fragile ecosystem of developing nations in coastal East Africa.
“It was emotional for me because I’ve always wanted to mobilize — this is why I joined, of course. But I was also like, ‘I’m kind of in the middle of something, can you wait till I’m done?’” Olajide joked. “I started notifying my teachers and they were super supportive. They made sure that I was able to finish my third semester so that when I came back, I would only have one semester to go to be able to graduate.”
Olajide worked to wrap up her coursework before lacing up her boots. Instructors provided pre-recorded lectures to listen to and exams were scheduled and taken before her mobilization. One of her clinical instructors, Kelli Jones, praised Olajide’s responsibility in getting the work done early.
“She successfully completed and passed all her nursing courses within that shortened semester. These nursing courses are rigorous within a 16-week semester and Esther’s scholastic achievement and her professionalism are commended,” Jones said.
In April, Olajide was presented the DAISY award for her academic achievements. The DAISY award was created by the family of J. Patrick Barnes, who died of an immune system disorder and was cared for by competent and caring nurses.
Because she is currently a logistics specialist, Olajide said that the deployment was unremarkable, more Groundhog Day than a whirlwind of combat. Olajide said that being back in Africa was a blessing, even if it was on the opposite side of the continent and a universe away from her family in Nigeria.
“It was surreal. When the plane was landing and I saw the country itself, it just took me back to my childhood. I got emotional because I’m here in Africa again, 14 years later, but at the same time, it really sucks because I can’t see any of my family,” Olajide said.
The 10 months flew by and a return to the States meant the need to get in gear for nursing school. Olajide said the faculty and staff at the College of Nursing made the transition back to civilian life smooth.
“I started reaching out to my advisor about a month before I came back. Everything was just overwhelming and confusing. I needed some guidance, and they were honestly the best set of people that I’ve ever worked with,” she said.
Not being in student mode for most of a year and shifting back to campus life was challenging, but Olajide said she wanted to come back to ECU and push through, which she has done.
Graduation is quickly approaching and Olajide has already spoken to recruiters to explore being a nurse in the Navy as a commissioned officer. She raised her hand to serve in uniform because it was a way to help others, which she’ll be even more qualified to do after turning her tassel and officially joining Pirate nurse nation.