JTC 24: A World Away

Kellygrace Loko comes to UM from West Africa to train for career in helping others

A young woman in a bright blue-and-gold jacket stands outside a building.

This story is part of the 2024 Journey to Commencement series, which celebrates the pinnacle of the academic year by highlighting University of Mississippi students and their outstanding academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

Kellygrace Loko grew up in the West African country of Togo but came to the U.S. at the start of 2020 to fulfill a dream of helping others.

The first part of her journey to pursue a career in medicine will be fulfilled as she receives her diploma at the University of Mississippi's 171st Commencement ceremonies. Loko will be honored as this year's class marshal for the Bachelor of Multi-Disciplinary Studies degree program.

Over the past several years, her parents, Kokou and Yvette, have worked to build and staff Grace Hospital in Vogan, Togo. Loko says that helping her family at the hospital and seeing the needs of others in her home country gave her a passion for medicine.


Kellygrace Loko (back right) visits with her family: her mother, Yvette (front left); and father, Kokou; and (back left) sister, Esther; and brother, Kevin. Her family helped to start Grace Hospital in Vogan, Togo. Submitted photo

"During mission trips when U.S. doctors and nurses visited the hospital, I witnessed things that deeply moved me, such as children losing their sight due to untreated cataracts and cases of macrocephaly," she said. "It was during these visits that I realized the health care system in Togo was in a poor state and there was a desperate need for good doctors."

That realization sparked Loko's interest in coming to America for college. She had ties to Oxford and Ole Miss due to close relationships her family had with members of North Oxford Baptist Church who had frequently visited Togo over the years to help build and serve at the hospital.

"Having the opportunity to work alongside doctors and nurses who showed deep compassion and love for those who were hurting reminded me of the love of God for us," Loko said. "From that moment on, I knew that my calling was to serve and care for the sick as they did.

"As a physician, I aspire to serve in underserved areas and to help with improving health care in Togo."

Loko's parents came to the U.S. in 1998 to study theology. She was actually born in Chattanooga in 2000 before returning to Togo as a small child with her older siblings, brother Kevin and sister Esther. They attended school in Togo and helped with their parents' mission work.


Kellygrace Loko works as an undergraduate research assistant in the Glycoscience Center of Research Excellence, learning from biology professor Josh Bloomekatz. Submitted photo

Loko helped serve as a translator and assistant when English-speaking doctors and nurses would visit to help patients and families in her community.

She came to the U.S. in November 2019 and began taking college courses at Hinds Community College in Raymond the following January while she worked to acclimate to life in the states. While a student at Hinds, Loko was named a gold scholar on the academic team of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.

When COVID restrictions hit, Loko came to Oxford to live with her guardian family, Larry and Midge McCay, who have known her since she was 5 years old through mission trips and ministry work with her parents.

Transferring to UM as a multi-disciplinary studies major in 2022, Loko's degree included minors in biology, chemistry and French. She also worked as an undergraduate research assistant in the university's Glycoscience Center of Research Excellence under Joshua Bloomekatz, assistant professor of biology.

In Bloomekatz's lab, Loko's research was aimed at understanding the molecular processes involved in cardiovascular development.

"Congenital disorders in the U.S. are a leading cause of death in newborns and children, and they pose a high risk of lifelong disabilities," she said. "So this research is crucial, as it will not only help us understand cardiac formation but also aid in finding treatments that can reverse cardiac defects from early stages of development."

Bloomekatz said that Loko's detailed work in the research lab is helping the team as they study the role of post-translational modification of O-GlcNAC on heart development.

"I was looking into some of the work she completed last semester and found a whole set of extra research and analysis she had done on the function and conservation of these proteins in different species," he said. "This information was helpful for the next stage of the project."

"Even after she has left the lab, she is still helping out. I know she is going to be very successful in the future."


Kellygrace Loko helps with families visiting Grace Hospital for medical care during a mission trip to Togo in 2022. Submitted photo

Loko completed her Ole Miss courses in December 2023. She will be participating in the international Atlantis Healthcare experiential education program this summer in Portugal, which will allow her to learn from physicians in a variety of specialties and patient needs.

"This opportunity is unique because it will not only allow me to fulfill the required shadowing hours for medical school, but also help me gain passion and vision for my future career in medicine."

As she is preparing to take her medical school entrance exams, Loko is researching possible medical specialties that she might be interested in pursuing.

"My father has sickle cell disease, so I have considered specializing in autoimmune diseases, but I'm also interested in oncology and surgery as well."

Loko says that she hopes to put her experiences in the U.S. to good use when she returns home.

"I would like to return and practice medicine at Grace Hospital, and in other countries of Africa," she said. "I believe that Grace Hospital is the future of medicine in Togo, and I am keen on contributing to its progress.

"Therefore, far beyond just working there, I am eager to share my experiences and expertise with others and help to implement quality health care in the hospitals and clinics of Togo that will help our communities."

Andrew Pfrenger, a visiting assistant professor of general studies, taught Loko in the MDS capstone course that helps students to reflect on their educational journey and look ahead to what comes next.

"In the class, we read, speak and write a lot about the importance of understanding the path one has taken to graduation," Pfrenger said. "That includes acknowledging the successes and positive influences that made each step meaningful, but also appreciating the bumps, obstacles and happy accidents that helped us along the way.

"Kellygrace is one of those students who impressed in every aspect of the course, especially those deep self-reflections that asked her to investigate where she's come from and how this journey to graduation has shaped her future."

"With her tireless dedication and positive attitude, Kellygrace embodies the word "success" and the very spirit of Ole Miss."

See more photos from Kellygrace Loko's Journey to Commencement


Pam Starling, Division of Outreach and Continuing Education



May 09, 2024


Kellygrace Loko

A young woman in a black outfit stands outside by a stone bench.

Kellygrace Loko is serving as class marshal for the university's Bachelor of Multi-Disciplinary Studies 2024 graduation ceremony on Saturday (May 11). Submitted photo

A medical team examines a baby in a medical office.

Kellygrace Loko (left) helps the medical team as a translator and medical assistant during a mission trip to Togo in July 2022. She worked with several Oxford-area doctors and nurses, many of whom were members of North Oxford Baptist Church. Submitted photo

A man and woman in ethic clothing sit in fron of three young people in street clothes.

Kellygrace Loko (back right) spends time with her family at her parent's home. Submitted photo