PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Inside a laboratory at the prestigious Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Yaya Dia, an immigrant from West Africa, is working tirelessly to create a vaccination for COVID-19.

"It's a privilege working with the top scientists at the Weiner laboratory and especially being there and being able to contribute," said 29-year-old Dia.

While his drive to help others during such a critical time speaks volumes, so does his personal journey. He came to Philadelphia from Burkina Faso in West Africa at the age of nine speaking no English.

"When I continued with high school I had that mentality to be number one," Dia said.

He went on to study business at Community College of Philadelphia but happened to take a biology course that spoke to his heart. It was his bio professor at CCP who encouraged Dia to apply to Wistar.

"When I started the program I didn't think I would be working with COVID-19. I didn't even think COVID-19 was going to happen," said Dia.

The coronavirus became a wake-up call for Dia to pursue following his dreams. He's now an apprentice at Wistar Institute helping to study a vaccine developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. based in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.

Nearly 40 vaccines are in the works at different stages and lab techs like Dia serve a crucial part.

"I started working on the COVID-19 DNA vaccine," Dia said.

Dia hopes to be an inspiration to others, especially given minorities are underrepresented in the sciences.

His ultimate goal is to become a neurosurgeon and entrepreneur.

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