PhD student supporting international students through involvement and growing UW–Madison’s “web”

Maxwell Chibuogwu speaks at Global Café on September 20, 2022

Descriptions of Maxwell Chibuogwu as “involved,” “charismatic,” and “brilliant” may seem hyperbolic… until you meet him. Within minutes, you’ll know he is all three and more. A PhD candidate in plant pathology from Delta State, Nigeria, Maxwell has found numerous ways to support other international students at UW–Madison, while simultaneously helping identify plant-based diseases affecting both Madison and his home country.

Anyone who knows Maxwell, knows that he has a toe dipped in every pool. He is involved in at least six student organizations across campus and holds leadership positions in several of them.

“I have what I call that leadership draw,” he confided.

He is a member of the International Student Services (ISS) International Reach Program which is a cross-cultural speakers program aimed at educating people about cultures and countries around the world. In addition, Maxwell recently joined the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB) to “help bring the student perspective to policies that would affect international students here at UW–Madison.”

He is also active in organizations focused on his area of study, including What’s Eating My Plant? (WEMP), a plant pathology-based organization to help educate community members on what is impacting their plants and crops; Plant Pathology Graduate Council (PPGC); and Mentorship Opportunities in Sciences and Agriculture for Individuals of Color (MOSAIC). If those organizations weren’t enough, he is actively working to revive the local chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Maxwell wears a white lab coat while working in a labBefore starting his PhD program in Madison or his master’s program at the University of Arizona-Tucson, Maxwell was working toward a bachelor’s degree in plant science and biotechnology at home in Nigeria. His decision to come to Madison was about as random as his campus-wide involvement is amazing. He was first introduced to the university in 2012 when he came to the U.S. for a month-long State Department exchange program in which 8 Nigerian students were chosen to learn about leadership, service, and community development in the U.S. That program was hosted in Madison.

Upon returning to Nigeria after the exchange program, Maxwell kept in touch with many of the staff and professors he met on his first visit here. While many are retired now, he still maintains relationships with several of the individuals who helped shape his career path. Those relationships ultimately helped sway his decision to make UW the next area of impact.

“The connections, the resources, the people… I see [Madison] as a hub. If you’re a spider and you’re in the center of the web, you can feel everything going on at different parts of the web. That’s how I feel Madison is,” said Maxwell. “If you are here, you’re plugged into a rich resource, you can get anywhere.”

Through his research, Maxwell is working with Wisconsin farmers to develop integrated pest management practices involving control of fungicide to minimize toxins and reduce Gibberella ear and stalk rot in silage corn – a problem impacting countries globally.

Though Maxwell still has several years left in his program, he is already thinking about where he will go next. He has entertained the idea of going to the Netherlands to see how their agricultural policies are being executed, or perhaps spending a of couple years in Canada. Wherever he goes, he will be building connections to tap into for the future, helping to reduce global food waste, and growing UW–Madison’s global spider web.

Story by: Jaya Larsen