•How She Became VC of A US University
Omobonike Odegbami is one of the lucky people who are enjoying dual citizenship. Forget for a moment that the status could be used against her in politics. She is by birth an American as she was born in the United States (US), but by blood a Nigerian, who is proud of her Nigerian roots, culture, Food, among others. Omobonike is an educationist who is making waves in the US. She is the Vice-Chancellor in charge of International Programmes at Wayne County Community College District in Southeast Michigan. She has used her office to help many international students especially Nigerians. Read more about her exploit in the US.
You are the Vice-Chancellor of a University in the U.S. Tell us about your job and the University.
I am the Vice-Chancellor for International Programmes at Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) in Southeast Michigan. WCCCD serves over 70,000 students, awarding Associates Degrees, Certificates, and Enrichment opportunities for the community. Our students either graduate or move into a career, transfer to a 4-year university to complete their Bachelor’s degrees, or obtain stackable credentials for workplace advancement. My responsibility is to provide leadership in the international programming of the institution and that includes recruit, retain, and graduate international students in the country on an F-1 student visa. I maintain the institutional compliance with the Department of Homeland Security and guide all international students in maintaining legal status while being students at WCCCD. Further, I oversee all international partnerships with the institution.
Tell us about your breakthrough career-wise in the U.S.
My “breakthrough” is attributed to the outstanding educational foundation in Nigeria (I am a 1988 graduate of Immaculate Comprehensive High School, Maryland – Lagos) plus a strong academic preparation in the United States along with great mentors and family support. I stand on very strong shoulders both in Nigeria and the United States.
When you mentor young Nigerians who look up to you on how they can make it in life, what advice do you give them?
My initial words of wisdom to them are: “Ranti omo eni ti iwo nse”. I have an expectation that all my students would succeed and when it comes to my Nigerian students, I share the acute awareness of the negative images and stereotypes regarding Nigerians and use this awareness as the impetus to drive them to be successful. I have an expectation that each of my students takes on the personal responsibility of fighting the stereotypes of Nigerians by defying them through academic success.
Tell us about your schooling. Where were you born in Nigeria? Why did you relocate to the US?
I was born in Chicago but raised in both Nigeria and the United States. I was 5 years old when I first came to Nigeria and came back to settle in the United States when I was 16 years old. In between those years, I shuttled between Nigeria and the United States for my schooling. My high school was split between Lagos and Maryland, USA.
I returned to the United States in 1988 after my high school in Nigeria to pursue higher education opportunities. My Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate’s journeys all were in the US. My background is in Psychology, School Psychology, Business Administration, Higher Education Administration, and Community College Leadership.
What were the major challenges you encountered along the way?
I was lost in my early adult life as I had no idea what I wanted to become. I joined the US Military trying to find myself and when that experience did not fulfill me, I went back to school. Having my first child while in school was a challenge as I had a hard time juggling motherhood with schooling. My next challenge was marriage. I married very young (18 years old) so I was clueless in navigating married life with all that I had going on. It was a challenge trying to figure out life together with my then-husband while trying to understand who I was. I must say, he was very supportive of my educational desires. Finally, my health was always a challenge as I battled sickle cell; I had to deal with the cancer diagnosis of my daughter in 2013 and mine in 2018. I always say I know I am going to make heaven as I have been to hell already, but God has been awesome.
How do you see the current negative image Nigeria is suffering from?
No doubt, that we Nigerians in the diaspora who are engaged in the fraudulent activities which have created such a negative impact on all Nigerians. However, people create meanings through interaction with media messages. The problem is that we have allowed the media to tell our story, hence allowing the impact of repetition and frequency of the fraudulent occurrences to describe us as a people. Somehow, we have allowed the official acceptance of who we are perceived to be. For example, the phrase “Nigerian email scam” has become accepted as the appropriate way of describing the scams that involve emails in which not only Nigerians participate.
Unfortunately, the published stories about good Nigerians that could possibly impact on others are far and few, so it is difficult to exert some positive stereotypes. We are also our own worst enemies by sharing negative news about our fellow brothers and sisters who are lost souls on social media as if that would somehow separate us from the negativity.
I don’t share negative Press of Nigerians because I think they have got enough publicity. My mission now is to engage in activities that highlight the good work that Nigerians are doing.
Why have you remained proud of being a Nigerian?
A friend gave me a shirt years ago that sums up the answer to this question. American by birth, Nigerian by the grace of God. I have dual citizenship and I am proud of both countries for various reasons. For Nigeria, I am proud of our culture, our talent, family values, our food – oh our food – there is none like it. Most importantly, our work ethic – we are very hard working!. My national affection of Nigeria demands critical analysis of the country and my people and to that end, I will continue to speak my truth.