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Calvin University honors Africa’s first black female physics professor

Calvin University honors Africa’s first black female physics professor

U.S-based Calvin University has dedicated a corridor on its campus to honor the legacy and impact of Professor Deborah Ajakaiye who, in 1980, became the first black female physics professor in Africa.

A dedication service with guests from around the world took place in the University Chapel on Thursday, April 13, 2023.

Opening doors

Ajakaiye Corridor

Ajakaiye has taught at several universities around the world, including at Ahmadu Bello University, where she earned her PhD in geophysics, and the University of Jos, where she served as the dean of natural sciences. She also taught a pair of interim classes at Calvin University in the late 1990s.

A well-accomplished scholar, Ajakaiye has published over 150 works that have contributed to the creation of a gravity map of Nigeria and to helping locate Nigerian groundwater and mineral deposits which have been instrumental in guiding investments and driving growth in the Nigerian economy. She is also the first female fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences, first Black African to be awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the Geological Society of London, and the first president of the Association of Geoscientists for International Development.

Honoring a lifetime of impact

Deborah Ajakaiye

Ajakaiye’s son Danladi Verheijen is a 1997 graduate of Calvin University. He and his wife Olubukola provided a generous gift to create a space at Calvin where women in the history of Calvin, the broader academy, and the world will be celebrated for their impact. They are naming the space after their mother, honoring her for her inspirational work ethic, exceptional leadership skills, humility and approachability, and for her unwavering faith in God.

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“She sees her work in science and nonprofit as ways to honor God and to make a positive impact on the world,” said Verheijen during the dedication service. “Her faith gives her meaning and purpose and therefore the strength and perseverance to overcome obstacles and stay focused on her goals. Faith has been an anchor for this woman. She has lived her life thinking nothing is impossible … All of this has translated into the work of breaking barriers and opening doors for countless African women to pursue their passion for science.”

Creating a pathway, inspiring possibilities

Ajakaiye Corridor


The corridor that connects the Chapel Patio to the Hekman Library via Hiemenga Hall’s third floor is now named “Dr. Deborah Enilo Ajakaiye Corridor” and will include a wall that honors women who have made an impact. Ajakaiye is the first to have a placard hung in her honor.

“We are excited to be able to create this space at Calvin University. And it is a blessing for it to be named after a woman who has impacted so many, including my own life,” said Wiebe Boer, president of Calvin University, who grew up close friends with Ajakaiye’s family in Nigeria.

“Professor Ajakaiye is an example of someone who chose impact in God’s world over personal wealth and treasure—who showed so much commitment to the most poor and needy when others of her level, status, and experience were chasing lucrative contracts and government positions. She is a living example of what we hope our students aspire to be, agents of renewal in the world.”

While Ajakaiye’s teaching career has now sunsetted, she hasn’t stopped sowing good into the world. She remains the president of Christian Care for Widows, Widowers and the Aged (CCWA), an organization she founded which helps to support the needs of 90,000 widows, widowers, orphans, and the elderly across Nigeria.


In addition to the corridor bearing her name, a lecture series at Calvin will as well. The Ajakaiye Lecture Series will bring guest speakers to campus who will reinforce and elevate the importance of cross-cultural understanding, the richness and beauty of cultural diversity, and the value of cross-cultural intelligence for current and future students of Calvin University.

Since 1876, Calvin University has lived into Christ’s promise to make all things new.

A world-class Christian university in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., Calvin exists to empower students as they discover a bold, transformative education rooted in Christian conviction.

Each year, Calvin welcomes hundreds of students from around the world who are compelled by God’s work of renewal to join in the formative pursuits of lifelong learning, teaching, scholarship, worship, and service.

Calvin’s 2022-2023 first-year class includes students from 42 U.S. states and 38 countries. A university-record 17% of the class comes from outside the United States. The university’s total class hails from more than 60 countries and almost every U.S. state.