St. Olaf student named Future Nobel Laureate Scholar
Dick Nchang ’25 has been named a Future Nobel Laureate Scholar by The Nobel Prize Museum and EF Education First.
Students selected for this scholarship participate in and receive credit for an online project-based course in intercultural communication. They will also travel to Sweden in December for an international field experience, where they will attend sessions at the 2023 Nobel Week Dialogue, a collaborative event that brings some of the world’s leading scientists, policymakers, and thinkers together to explore scientific topics through a global lens. Led by distinguished international faculty leaders, scholarship recipients will tackle global challenges through action-learning projects.
Nchang founded the Sickle Cell International Foundation (SCINTF), which has created partnerships with local hospitals in Cameroon to provide more than $75,000 worth of feeding, tests, hospitalizations, and medications free of charge to 124 families and counting. In Sub-Saharan Africa, an Economist Intelligence Unit report estimates the annual economic burden of sickle cell disease at $9.1 billion, including treatment, direct and indirect treatment, and productivity loss. Nchang knows firsthand the devastating impacts of the disease, having been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when he was two years old before receiving a bone marrow transplant in 2016. This has supercharged his motivation to rid his home country, Cameroon, and the world, of sickle cell disease — and it’s why he founded SCINTF in October 2017, before he even came to St. Olaf.
For Nchang, being named a Future Nobel Laureate Scholar was a vote of confidence in the work that he has been doing with SCINTF. “A program like this takes me a step closer in finding the right people and bringing the right resources together to advance my goals,” Nchang says. “I won’t be watching the people who have done great work on a YouTube channel — I will be there with them physically and delve with them into the substance of what made their work great. That is a significant benefit. Their own resources and networks will increase the surface area of me finding the right people, and take me steps closer to my goal.”
“A program like this takes me a step closer in finding the right people and bringing the right resources together to advance my goals. I won’t be watching the people who have done great work on a YouTube channel — I will be there with them physically and delve with them into the substance of what made their work great.”Dick Nchang ’25
Nchang is currently conducting independent research into the health economics of gene editing. He is focusing on how to make a blueprint on curative therapies accessible across developing economies.
“The future of healthcare is gene editing, without a doubt. And you know, diseases like sickle cell present the best first-case use of therapies like this. I believe that even if we tackle this small problem, the process of tackling this $9.1 billion burden, we can use it to tackle other diseases — for example, leukemia and other cancers,” he says.
He’s looking forward to what he’ll learn through the Future Nobel Laureate Scholar Program, including its emphasis on the importance of communication. “To do great work on a large scale, work that impacts the community, will require a significant amount of human resources. Communication is a critical component to that. So part of the course that we will take up until we get to Sweden will focus on how we will build the skills that are relevant to affect the change that we want. How do we learn to communicate across cultures and generations? I am ready to learn it all. I am ready to soak all of it in,” says Nchang.
Nchang emphasizes the critical role that friends and community played in helping him find this opportunity — including his African Leadership Academy classmate from South Africa who put the application on his radar.
“Twenty years from now, I will be remembering the friends who helped me to be aware of this opportunity,” Nchang says. “I love this Ubuntu spirit. Flowers and chocolates I can buy, but opportunities are what I want to give, because it can change the trajectory of someone’s life. I derive more utility in seeing you happy and doing something that you enjoy.”