Three Generations, Two Continents, a Single Decision

Posted by Paula Paine on August 4, 2014 in "Your OU" How often do we trace the events in our lives back to a “what if?” What if my parents’ paths hadn’t crossed when they did? What if I had chosen to play football instead of soccer? What if we hadn’t moved to California? What if my dad hadn’t died? And we imagine how our lives may have been altered as a result.

Eniola Olaonipekun completed his MBA at OU’s residential campus in December 2013 and his BA in Accounting and Business Administration in 2010. His “what if” came from a single decision made a world away and decades earlier when his grandfather, the late Reverend Job Olaonipekun, determined to further his education. The country was Nigeria. The year was 1962.

With no Internet and no international contacts, Job’s school choice was dependent on a simple list of Baptist universities to which he had access. Ottawa University was on that list - and the decision was made.

Through financial aid and campus employment, Job earned his BA in Religion in 1966 and his Master’s in Education from Emporia State University in 1967. His wife had the privilege of coming to the U.S. prior to his graduation from Emporia State and together the couple returned to Nigeria, where Job pastored the First Baptist Church of Igbajo and taught in the local college.

Though the sacrifice had been great – Job left his wife and children in Nigeria for almost four years to pursue his degree as a non-traditional adult student – so had the impact of his Ottawa University education. “His experience was top notch,” said his son Jonathan ‘77, “and he always made good reference to Ottawa when he was alive. My dad’s lifestyle was quite different, and he became a model both in the school and church. He was highly admired for his integrity, humility and obedience, and as a man of his word.”

Job’s experience at OU had a profound impact on Jonathan’s decision to follow in his father’s footsteps. He commenced his study at OU in 1974 through a full scholarship and campus employment. He played soccer all four years, with state-level recognition in 1975, and earned his BA in Personnel Psychology and Administration in 1977. Like his father, Jonathan stayed in Kansas to earn his MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Emporia State University before returning to Nigeria in 1979, where he worked for a number of private organizations before transitioning into a government role. He currently serves as Director of Human Resources and Administration for the National Information Technology Development Agency of Nigeria.

During the years following his return, Jonathan married and had four children. His wife, Florence, was an educator for more than 20 years before becoming a businesswoman; his oldest son, Segun, is a professional architect; his other son, Oladipo, is a senior at Emporia State University majoring in Computer Information Systems; and his only daughter, Babafunke, is in her final year of high school. She also desires to further her education in the United States. 

In 2006, Jonathan’s second oldest son, Eniola (Enny) was 15. Being well educated in private elementary and Christian boarding schools, he had already graduated from high school due to his high intelligence and extreme dedication. It was now time for him to make his own decision regarding college.

“Since he entered high school, Enny had been singing about going to the university that his grandpa and I attended,” said Jonathan.  Still, as Enny remembers it, the decision was not assumed. “Enny, what is your choice?” asked Jonathan. “Do you want to stay in Nigeria or go abroad for your higher education?”

Enny’s response came from a wise-beyond-his-years maturity. “I have always believed that as a human being, we should explore other cultures, travel, learn what De we can from other people, and see how we fit,” he said. “I had just finished high school with my friends, and I didn’t think I would grow as an individual if I stayed in Nigeria and went to university with the same people. I thought it was better to put myself in a place where I didn’t know anybody and see how I could grow. So I said I wanted to go Ottawa University.”

After spending a year at home in preparation, Enny arrived at OU in January of 2007 at the tender age of 16 – almost half the age that his grandfather had been when he arrived in 1962. Though he had heard about Ottawa University his entire life, Enny admits that his stereotype of everything being “big” in America was quickly shattered when he woke up to the small town of Ottawa and the University’s modest campus – a huge contrast from Lagos, the city of nearly 20 million from which he had come.

“My high school was bigger than OU,” he said. “But I wasn’t disappointed. After my initial shock, I realized that it was the perfect setting for me to buckle down and concentrate on my education. It was quiet, the class sizes were small, and I had a close relationship with my professors.”

Enny made the adjustment easier by determining to get involved. While earning his bachelor’s degree, he worked a variety of jobs on campus, played soccer three of his four years, was a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), participated in Whole Earth Club events, and attended First Baptist Church of Ottawa. Before enrolling in the MBA program, Enny also worked for a year at the local Wal-mart. Each, along with OU’s challenging liberal arts education, contributed in a different way to his development as a person, just as he had hoped.

Through the BSU, Enny was able to attend two Big 12 Conferences and two Harry Truman Good Neighbor Award ceremonies - one for retired Senator Ike Skelton and the other for former President Bill Clinton. On the soccer team, he met teammates from around the world and formed friendships that will last a lifetime. At First Baptist, they welcomed him with open arms and made him feel at home. Through his jobs, he learned what it meant to make his own way and to serve others. He broadened his horizons by traveling to New York, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, and Wisconsin. And academically, he excelled, being named to the Dean’s Honor Roll in both 2009 and 2010. He was also challenged in ways he hadn’t been before, especially by Dr. Marylou DeWald when completing his MBA thesis.

“Professors like Dr. DeWald, Lyn Wagner, Nikola Ristic, Tonia Salvini, and Murle Mordy shaped who I am academically and influenced me a great deal,” said Enny. “They saw the effort I put into my education and they gave me the confidence and support to keep at it.

“I wanted to grow as a person in the U.S., and I think that really happened. Some of the rigid ideas I had back in Nigeria have totally changed. I’m seeing the world differently now, as a global village. I’ve learned that you can maintain your beliefs and principles but that you have to make room for accommodating and assimilating other cultures. You understand that people come to the table with different ideas, and you have to listen to them, respect them and learn from them.”

What does the future hold for Enny now that he has two degrees from OU? His hope is to become a financial analyst and work his way up to someday become a CFO, Controller or VP of Finance for a large company. His career goals have a purpose beyond climbing the corporate ladder, however.

“If I can be successful enough in my career to become a philanthropist, I will have achieved my goals and lived a fulfilled life,” said Enny. “My desire is to help children in third-world countries gain access to the basic necessities of life – clean water, food, shelter – so that they can concentrate on getting an education instead of on surviving.

“When I look back at my own life and see the sacrifices that my dad and mom made to provide me with the education I have, I don’t take it for granted. My dad always said that the most important thing you can give a child is an education. He also said, ‘Enny, no matter where you go in life, no matter what you are, just be willing to give back to people.’ So that is what drives my career and life goals.

“I’m so grateful to God that he walked with me throughout these years and that I’m sitting down today with my bachelor’s and my MBA without any debt. Now it is time for me to start giving back.”