Leesi George-Komi, a Nigerian-born American, is making a significant impact in the field of health research, particularly in pediatric care and interventions that improve mental and physical health. Growing up in metro Atlanta with parents who instilled in him the values of education and community service, he developed a deep appreciation for his Nigerian heritage, which continues to shape his perspective and drive his work.

Currently a third-year doctoral student in the School of Kinesiology, Leesi is enthusiastically studying for his qualifying exams. His research focuses on physical activity and motor skill interventions for children, where he aims to understand the effect of such interventions on the relationship between discrimination and young people’s mental health, specifically anxiety and depression.

Leesi believes that mental health plays a vital role in shaping one’s identity and is a topic that is often overlooked, especially in minority populations. However, physical activity is a fun and potentially effective way to positively impact physical and mental health issues, particularly in children.

His journey in health research took an interesting turn when he began receiving guidance from Leah Robinson, PhD, through MICHR’s Summer Immersion Program. She opened his eyes to the potential impact he could make in the community through research and still serves as his mentor.

Initially aspiring to become a doctor, with dreams of orthopedic surgery or physical therapy, Leesi sought a tangible way to make a difference. Encouraged by Dr. Christopher Mojock, his mentor during his undergraduate and master’s degrees, he began to realize how the interdisciplinary nature of kinesiology offered an array of opportunities beyond personal training and sports medicine.

Leesi’s dedication to research and ability to excel in challenging situations became evident during the pandemic. As a participant in MICHR’s virtual summer program, he displayed exceptional resilience and produced outstanding work despite the obstacles. Since MICHR, Leesi has presented research at international conferences, worked on grants, spoken at Rackham’s own KING-Talk (TED-style talk), and was recently the first author of a scientific article about sex differences in children’s outcomes after his mentor’s motor skill intervention.

Recognizing his exceptional qualities, he was invited to return to the Summer Program as a peer mentor. Driven by his desire to mentor low-income minority students and help them realize their personal and research potential, Leesi accepted the invitation – returning to his roots as a peer mentor and advocating for underrepresented individuals. Through his guidance, he empowers others to recognize their skills and apply them to benefit their communities.

Parental Influence

He attributes his passion for education and community service to his parents, who, though once refugees, remained determined to pursue higher education while continuing to help their community to the best of their abilities. Their unwavering support, coupled with the influence of mentors throughout his academic journey, has propelled Leesi forward. He acknowledges the impact of connections and the importance of building them for himself and others, as they have played a crucial role in his progress.

Leesi and his parents came to America as political refugees. His father was a leader in MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) – a peaceful, non-violent organization created in response to the Nigerian government and Shell Global oil company pillaging tribal lands for oil. His parents had to separate, go into hiding, and flee to a refugee camp in the neighboring country of Benin before being able to travel to the US as refugees. Leesi’s father arrived on Valentine’s Day in 1996, while he and his mother followed two weeks before his first birthday in September of that year.

After coming to America, his parents had to redo their academic work. His mother lost her bachelor’s credentials and his father lost his master’s, but after years of hard work they now have a master’s and PhD, respectively. Both parents are also leaders in their respective Ogoni organizations while living in Georgia.

Community Work

Through his involvement with FAYO (Fight Against Youth Obesity), a University of Georgia organization, Leesi developed a curriculum for physical activities and interventions to promote children’s overall health. This experience allowed him to connect his interests in nutrition, developmental aspects, and vulnerable populations. He realized the importance of early interventions to support children’s physical abilities and overall well-being, with the ultimate goal of positively impacting their lives.

Upon reflecting on his journey, Leesi expresses deep gratitude to Dr. Robinson, the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research (MICHR), and their Summer Program for allowing him to familiarize himself with research before beginning his doctoral program. He strongly believes in the transformative power of MICHR and aims to connect more individuals to its resources and support, based on his own positive experiences.

Leesi George-Komi’s commitment to health research, his dedication to mentoring underrepresented students, and his passion for making a difference in the lives of children and older adults highlight the profound impact he is already making in the field. With his unique perspective, cultural background, and unwavering drive, Leesi is poised to continue his trajectory of success and create lasting change in the world of health research and community service.