During Black History Month, as we listen to and learn about the accomplishments and lived experiences of the Black community, the story of Dr. Akindele Odeshi, USask Engineering’s new associate dean academic, is one to highlight.
Dr. Odeshi was born and raised in Nigeria and earned his first two degrees there: bachelor’s and master’s degrees in metallurgical materials engineering at the Federal University of Technology Akure.
In 1996, he received a scholarship to study for his PhD at the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. But there was one hurdle – he did not understand the German language. Undeterred, Dr. Odeshi went to German language school for six months (which was included in his scholarship) and then started his degree.
After he completed his PhD – in German – Dr. Odeshi worked as a Research Associate (wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter) at Chemnitz for 18 months. He then decided to move to an English-speaking country so his children could learn the language. His first stop in Canada was at the University of Manitoba, where he spent five years. He was offered a position at USask in July 2008; attracted by the opportunity to do research at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, he accepted.
USask Engineering communications officer Donella Hoffman spoke to Dr. Odeshi about his professional journey and what he feels has helped him achieve success.
Completing a PhD in a brand-new language must have been difficult. What helped you succeed?
With determination to succeed, I just threw myself into it and I was able to complete my PhD thesis in the German language, attend classes in German language, and defended my PhD thesis in German language. That was not an easy task, but I had strong determination to succeed.
One thing that works for me is developing a sense of belonging anywhere I go. If I’m in a new culture, I just throw myself into the culture, mingle with people, interact with people all the time.
When I got to the university (Chemnitz), I just joined my colleagues; everything they did, I was doing. They are drinking coffee, I will drink coffee with them. By so doing, I was able to interact and learn more of the language and then became fluent in the German language.
What was your area of research at Chemnitz?
I was given a challenge to work on a project that has to do with a cost-effective manufacture of carbon fibre reinforced carbon composites. This a composite used for high temperature applications. If you look at the nose cone and leading edges of a spacecraft, for example, that black material is carbon fibre reinforced carbon that can withstand high temperature, in excess of 2000 degrees centigrade. For that application, that can be justified. But there are some other applications where you want to use this same material but the high cost of producing the material will not justify the use.
The challenge that my supervisor (Dr. Bernhard Wielage) was working on, in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (Deutsche Luft und Raumfahrt), was looking at cost-effective manufacture of carbon fibre reinforced carbon. I was asked to work on that project to see what can be done to reduce the manufacturing cost. I completed that successfully, as we were able to devise and define new methods to produce material with similar properties that is produced through the conventional method.
What advice do you have for students today who may be feeling concerned about being welcomed or included in a new environment?
You know, people talk about equity, diversity and inclusion and I always believe that the term belonging is an important term, too.
I want to have a sense of belonging. Anywhere I go, I don't see myself as an outsider once I'm within the team; I throw myself within the team. If it's a new culture, I throw myself there.
Before I left Nigeria, I was only drinking tea. I was not used to coffee because for me it was bitter. (In Germany) my colleagues, around 11:30 am, they all gathered over coffee, to chat and drink coffee. I didn't want to separate myself. I joined them to drink coffee. I’ve come to like coffee today.
Try to do what they are doing, develop a sense of belonging . . . don’t exclude yourself and see yourself as an outsider.
That is very important because people really want to draw you in but they don't know whether you want to belong. But when you show that you want to be part of the group, then you find out they are welcoming. Somebody has to break the barrier.
What would you like students to know about you and how you're going to approach your role?
One message I want students to take away, both the Canadian students and international students, is that anybody can become anything, can occupy any position with hard work and remaining focused.
The last thing I had my eye on was becoming associate dean. All I wanted is to become a full professor and continue my research. I worked very hard, I just focused on that. But then these colleagues started thinking, ‘This is time for you (to become associate dean academic in the College of Engineering). You can do this, we’re going to nominate you.’
And I actually thought it was a joke. I tried to run away. The harder I tried to run, the more the colleagues tried to say, ‘No, you should step forward and do this.’
But I believe in giving back. If colleagues think, ‘He can do this,’ and they wanted me to contribute at this level to the college, I thought, ‘Yes, why not?
And so I just want students to see that with hard work, it doesn't matter the colour of your skin. It doesn't matter where you are born. If you can put in diligence and hard work, and remain focused on what you are doing, you can aspire to be anything and you will get there.
With regards to how I want to approach my role as the new Associate Dean Academic, two things readily come to mind: continuing the high-quality undergraduate education and promoting student success in our college. Those will be my top priorities while building on the laudable achievements of my predecessor, Dr. Bruce Sparling.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
The achievements and the contributions Black Americans and Black Canadians have made to society is something that I think is worth celebrating.
When I came to Canada, I found it amazing to see, quite a number of Black people occupying different positions in different sectors of the economy. I believe Black History Month is something that should be embraced and be celebrated.
Article re-posted on .
View original article.