Engaged UNCG Alumnus Excels in Economics

Posted on March 15, 2024

Richard Akashambatwa poses in front of UNCG building.

It’s no surprise that Richard “Aka” Akashambatwa’s ’16 advice for future Bryan School of Business and Economics students is to “be engaged” because knowing his story means knowing he lives by those words.

From being a young man in Zambia intrigued by the social sciences to answering questions as a business analytics consultant at Cone Health, Aka has been engaged in his education, his career, and his community.

From Zambia to North Carolina  

Aka seems to have known his direction since he attended high school in southern Africa.

“I was always intrigued by the art of the social sciences; I had a desire to solve complex social and economic issues that face communities at large,” says Aka. “Most young Zambians question why the country is so poor when it has many resources and why it is behind in terms of economic development.”

This early curiosity would ultimately lead to Aka’s future career.

After high school, Aka met and married his wife, and when pursuing education, they returned to her hometown of Lexington, North Carolina. He secured a “good foundation” at community college and then transferred to UNC Greensboro.

The Pursuit of Economics

Aka knew he wanted to do economics at UNCG yet admits he did not really know what it was about.

“I had a narrow understanding, but my courses at UNCG very much broadened my understanding of economics and also the use of data in supporting decision making and interpretating complex social issues—how they are connected and how they affect our day-to-day livelihoods.”

UNCG professors had vigorous expectations of the students, Aka shares, noting their instructional methods prepared students to tackle societal challenges and complex social issues. He adds every professor had a hand in some way in his student career.

“Every professor counseled me or provided support, and the support was holistic. Students were surrounded by a support system,” says Aka, who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from UNCG in 2016.

Richard Aka poses with two professors in front of UNCG business building.

Data, Data, Data 

Aka feels strongly that UNCG instilled in him the skillset needed for the 21st century job market. “My experience at UNCG was very grounding. It was the building block of my career I am in right now,” says Aka.

As a business analytics consultant at Cone Health, Aka supports the population health and operations analytics team in the enterprise analytics department. His ultimate role is to provide decision support, provide data analytical support, and answer business questions for senior leadership, other business departments, and customers.

“My job involves mining data, using statistical models or exploratory analysis to gain insights, and creating reports for leadership to answer their specific questions,” says Aka.

For example, if Cone Health senior leadership wants to open an urgent care in a new location, Aka’s team would leverage internal and external databases to pull and analyze data to help the decisionmakers understand certain data points, like population characteristics, overall population census, the location’s disease mapping characteristics, and population projection.

“This data collection, the wrangling, the interpretation—it is all based on the economic studies I did at UNCG,” says Aka. “I learned how to design and use statistical mathematics in understanding relationship of a range of factors in the social sciences.”

“UNCG was the grounding for those unique set of skills.”

Education a ‘Gamechanger’

Richard Aka laughs with a past professor on UNCG campus.

Aka names education as a “gamechanger in my life,” so he invests his personal time in helping children’s educational endeavors. To engage in community, Aka mentors rising middle and high school students at Kidz Dreamz Klub in Lexington, where he worked while at UNCG and now serves on the board of directors. He also volunteers at Truth and Life Worship Center to help youth learn African drumming.

“If I can create a positive impact on the lives of young people, especially in minority communities, that is something that I love to do,” says Aka.

Engagement is Key

Aka encourages current UNCG students to “make sure you are participating in student life.”

“There’s more to university than just attending classes,” says Aka. “Participate in activities that enhance your ability to network—it helps jump start your career after college.”

In his third year as a Cone Health consultant, Aka is living proof of that advice.

Story by Amy Burtch, AMBCopy
Photography by David Lee Row, University Communications

Richard Aka walking on UNCG campus with a past professor.

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