James Madison University

first graduates logoAbout this series: This is the 20th installment in a series of features celebrating the first graduating class of the JMU Department of Engineering. When JMU started the school four years ago, it set out to develop a program unlike any other. Through this series, you will see how the students and faculty have done just that, concentrating their efforts on teaching and learning the four pillars of sustainability that future engineers must embrace, not only to succeed in their profession, but to make meaningful contributions in the communities they choose to work in. The series will continue each week through May, when graduates of the JMU Department of Engineering take part in the spring commencement ceremony for the first time.

Ogundipe's Vision for Engineers Molded by Niger Delta Experience

The writing on the wall, or in this case, the door, didn't turn out to be all that prophetic. Dr. Adebayo Ogundipe chuckles as he recounts the story:

"I remember going to one of the government hospitals once with my mother when I was younger and I saw there was a door that had a sign. The sign was Dr. Ogundipe and I told my mom, 'I guess this is a sign for me to become a doctor.'"

PHOTO: Adebayo OgundipeA medical doctor is what Ogundipe's father had hoped his son would become, but Ogundipe's love and aptitude for math and science led him on a different path and during his senior year in high school, he decided he would become a chemical engineer instead.

"At that time, I actually had no idea what a chemical engineer did. I did know one thing, though. It satisfied my parents enough," Ogundipe (pronounced O-goon-deep-A) said. "Chemical engineers in Nigeria got jobs in the oil companies."

Ogundipe decided to become a chemical engineer because of his fondness for chemistry. But getting the necessary education got off to a slow start due to a teacher's strike. For the first year out of high school, Ogundipe worked in flourmills and also tutored high school graduates who were preparing to take the college entrance exam. He also explored colleges outside of Nigeria, including schools in the United States, and took the SATs required to get into many American colleges. He applied to a couple of schools and was accepted, but he could not afford them. When the teacher's strike ended, he attended the University of Lagos in the coastal city he grew up in and earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1999.

Ogundipe wanted to continue his education, but that had to wait. While attending state-run universities in Nigeria is nearly free, graduates are required to serve one year in the National Youth Service Corps. The service begins with a month of paramilitary training and then the Corps members are sent to work jobs in areas of the country away from where they grew up. Ogundipe was assigned to a bank in the Niger Delta. And while he was not working as an engineer, the pollution he saw first-hand and the ways companies dealt with the environmental damage they caused had a profound impact on his outlook of how engineers should approach their jobs.

"The water was polluted, people were sick, dead fish were floating on the water," he said.

PHOTO:Adebayo OgundipeThe oil companies creating the pollution responded by building new settlements for the effected communities and relocating them. While the new settlements provided modern amenities, relocation was difficult on the people, Ogundipe said.

"People lose their sense of identity. It's very difficult for them. So seeing all of that kind of reinforced the idea that you can't just be an engineer that just gets the job done. You have to be an engineer with an understanding of the consequences of anything you do and anything you design. There are people that have to be part of that system that you're working in."

After completing his year in the youth service corps, the bank Ogunidpe worked for hired him, but he still wanted to continue his education and once again looked for opportunities in the U.S. He got his chance when Stevens University in Hoboken, N.J., offered to pay his way if he would pursue a doctorate. He first earned a master's degree in chemical engineering in 2003 and then a doctorate in environmental engineering in 2006. Ogundipe stayed on at Stevens in research and teaching positions until he joined the JMU Department of Engineering faculty in August 2010.

Ogundipe says he chose to work in academia rather than industry because he feels it's where he can have the greatest impact.

"I wouldn't exchange it for anything else," he said of his experience working with students.

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