Episode 15: In today’s episode, host Jim Ray interviews Dr. OJ Oleka, Chair of the Executive Board of our Rubel School of Business. He’s also the President of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities. They discuss is important topics for the Rubel School of Business.
Meet Dr. OJ Oleka
OJ begins by explaining his parents’ background. They were born into poverty in Nigeria. His father received an education and eventually moved the family to the US. His father earned a PhD and his mother earned her Master’s degree. They settled in Kentucky and raised three children. OJ credits education and the ability to build a future in the US that resulted in his family’s achievements.
OJ began his career teaching low-income students as part of Teach for America. He believes in two facts. First, every kid can learn – regardless of background or neighborhood. Second, if you provide adults in those same communities with good jobs and careers, you can effectively end poverty.
The Importance of Having a Big Goal
The Spring 2020 edition of the Bellarmine Magazine included an interview with OJ. In the article, he explains why he believes in the importance of a big goal. His involves ending generational poverty.
OJ explains that by having a big goal, he and others can begin to plan the steps necessary to achieve it. His parents’ personal example instilled a realization and understanding of the power of a solid education. He views it as the key to actually ending generational poverty in our community, state and beyond.
A Question of Access
The structure in a person’s life is an important factor in their success, both personal and financial. OJ recalls an important question: “What do you have access to?” He goes on to relate the understanding “What kids see is what they’ll be.” This statement describes how an individual is shaped by the environment, the structure (of lack thereof) around him or her.
We have a responsibility to create an environment for those around us, especially kids, to enable them to have access to opportunities. This is reflected in social capital. The power of the network around a young person. For instance, in high school, it could be the guidance counselor who impacts the social capital of many students in his/her school. They often open up paths to success.
The Rubel School of Business has an opportunity to help students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to gain access to a welcoming environment for learning and to impart the positive effects of social capital and a strong business education (for both undergraduates and MBAs).
The Perception of Affordability
OJ discusses the impact of awareness in terms of the numerous, financial resources that are actually available to students. Affordability is a reason students often chose not to enroll in a 4-year institution. They incorrectly perceive that it must be too expensive. This false assumption becomes a self-imposed barrier.
As President of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU), OJ battles the affordability issue on a regular basis. He states there’s a common misconception about a student’s financial background, if he/she attends a private university. However, he explains that 40% of the students an AIKCU school come from low-income backgrounds. It’s the same percentage as those attending public universities in Kentucky. OJ goes on to explain that 2 out of 5 students are Pell Grant eligible.
Interestingly, OJ notes that low-income students tend to do better in private institutions, compared to community colleges and public universities. Bellarmine and the Rubel School of Business is a terrific option for students who are focused on a pathway to success.
What is the Role of the Executive Board Chair?
Namely, it’s to work with the dean (Dr. Natasha Munshi) and the rest of the Board. He explains that Rubel’s Executive Board is a working Board. It’s focused on supporting Dr. Munshi’s vision for Rubel and ensuring the business school becomes the best version of itself.
OJ has 3 areas he focuses on in terms of his energy and influence:
- Scholarships for Minority Students
- Undergraduate and Graduate Enrollment
Bellarmine and Rubel is already recognized for its alumni mentoring program and engagement. It’s a terrific way to connect students with job opportunities and to help them to navigate the BU system. It’s an integral part of the Bellarmine experience. Many students take advantage of it. OJ comments on how he benefited from the Bellarmine/Rubel culture when his father passed away during OJ’s MBA program.
Diversifying the pipeline of students is an important aspect of the Rubel School of Business’ growth and continued impact. By developing partnerships with the local organizations, Rubel can better identify the students of color who want to take that important next step. The Pell Grant and Bellarmine scholarships offer a way for students to access the various opportunities at the Rubel School of Business.
The connections established by Rubel, throughout our community, are extremely helpful in attracting students from a wide array of backgrounds at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
It’s an Investment in the Future
A college degree, and a business degree in particular, is an excellent way to leverage a student’s talents to achieve their “big goals” and to make a positive impact on their families and/or communities.
What Does OJ Want to Leave as Part of His Legacy in this Role?
Actually, OJ comments that there are several areas he hopes to have had an impact on as Chair. The first is promoting the diversity among Rubel students. Another legacy would be to enable Rubel to maintain and increase the quality of education and experience for students. This also relates to the accreditation earned by Rubel, which recognizes the rigor and competitiveness of its business school. For those motivated students who chose Bellarmine, the can rest assured that this program will enable them to compete effectively in their future careers.
We’d like to thank Dr. OJ Oleka for taking the time to participate in this episode.
We’d also like to wish each of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a very Happy and Safe New Year! Until next time, Swords Up and Let’s Go Knights!
The views and opinions expressed during the Bellarmine on Business podcast do not necessarily reflect those of Bellarmine University, its administration or the faculty at large. The episodes are designed to be insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining.
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