Back To All News

Nigerian Native Says It Took a Village for Success

April 11th, 2014
Professor Olujide Akinbo was raising four children while he was working on his doctorate at Northern.

Professor Olujide Akinbo was raising four children while completing his doctorate at Northern.

Alum Olujide Akinbo has been promoted to a full chemistry professorship at Butler University, crediting the extensive hands-on experience and extended family at NIU for his success and adjustment to the American culture.

“Coming to NIU gave me a tremendous amount of hands-on experience in the instrumental aspect of the discipline,” the Nigerian native said.

Because the NIU graduate program provided funds for conference presentations, Akinbo said, he received a “Super Bowl experience” by competing against peers from other labs.

“I have done about 43 conference presentations now,” he said. “I have taken some of my undergraduate students to conferences as well. I have organized oral presentation sessions and have chaired many sessions. All of these originated from the exposure that I got as a graduate student at Northern.”

Akinbo graduated with a doctorate in chemistry in 1997 from NIU, coming to the U.S. from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, where he graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

His post-doctoral work was with the North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute (now called RTI International), one of the best labs in the country. He worked at the institute for 2 ½ years as part of a project to make changes to the policy on arsenic levels in drinking water.

With 14 years of experience as a chemistry professor, Akinbo views his work as a calling instead of a profession, although he originally wanted to study medicine.

Olujide Akinbo3 “Initially, I wanted to be a physician, but can’t stand the sight of blood,” the 52-year-old said. “However, I feel natural in this environment.”

Northern provided him with a holistic approach because all the resources were there to develop academically, spiritually and physically, he said.

He feels indebted to faculty members in the NIU chemistry department and to community members, such as the ministers of Judson Baptist Fellowship, for their support during his college years.

He recalled NIU professor Jon Carnahan, his dissertation adviser, assisting him beyond the classroom. Carnahan, who chairs the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, helped him adjust to the new academic culture.

“His guidance gave me the experience that I needed and the confidence that drives me,” Akinbo said. “He was very patient with me, in spite of my initial deficiencies coming from a different academic culture and experience.”

“He has been an outstanding alum by demonstrating student career success,” Carnahan said. “He’s now a full professor at a great school. We in chemistry are very proud of him and his success.”

By the time Akinbo was finishing his doctorate, he was raising four children. He met his wife, a physics major, at the University of Ibadan. Their children are now ages 16 to 20.

“As you can see, it took a village to see us through Northern,” he said.

Adjusting to the cold weather of Illinois was another challenge.

“The Midwest weather is perhaps the first major and rude shock I got. I arrived in August (1992) and two months later it began to feel colder than the deep freezer back in Nigeria,” Akinbo said. “This is the one thing that I have not fully adjusted to, no matter how long I have lived in the states.”

Other than that, he has learned to cope with cultural differences because of university and community support.

“However, I would like to note that I have no defined culture now. I am out of touch with some aspects of the Nigerian culture,” he said. “In fact, to both Nigerians and Americans, I have an accent. I wonder what I have metamorphosed into!”

Through his passion, dedication and sense of humor, he has found the right chemistry to make a difference with his students.