Awosoga finds a way to pay it forward

When Dr. Olu Awosoga moved from Nigeria to the United States to further his mathematical education, he had a lot more to get used to than just a cold climate.

Dr. Olu Awosoga began contributing to the Supporting Our students campaign immediately upon being hired because he understood students' needs.

With a family to support and a course of study that would require almost all of his time and attention (not to mention the challenges of culture shock), Awosoga understandably felt a bit overwhelmed by what he was facing on the road to a Masters and PhD. He knew he’d have to work while he studied – financially there was no other option, but even with a job funds would still be tight.

Awosoga first attended Central Michigan University, where he taught undergraduate classes while completing a Masters degree, and continued to teach after moving onto Western Michigan University (WMU) to earn a PhD. WMU came through with graduate scholarships which supplemented the income Awosoga earned teaching, and although he was run off his feet between work, studying and family life, Awosoga was grateful that he at least didn’t have to worry about money.

“It’s very difficult to focus on your studies when you have to think about how you’re going to pay rent,” says Awosoga. “I see it all the time with students – they have homework, they have research, they have classes, they have a job, they have a family – it’s a tremendous amount of pressure. I know the reality of the struggle. If I can help make it easier for someone, I’m happy to do that.”

Awosoga decided to pay his good fortune forward through the Supporting Our Students (SOS) program, making his first contribution almost immediately after joining the U of L’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 2009. He has doubled his contribution to the program every year since.

“The effects of the funding don’t just benefit students, they benefit everyone on campus,” says Awosoga. “If students are struggling they tend to miss classes. They’re stressed or even depressed. They don’t function well, which has negative effects for everyone from professors to cafeteria staff. SOS helps to put things on a positive cycle. It works in favour of everyone.”

With the cost of university education continually on the rise, Awosoga says that the need for programs such as SOS is greater than ever.

“University is incredibly expensive, but think about the cost of not having it. We pay for it as a society if we restrict who is able to attend university or finish their studies because of financial struggle. Students need money. They need support. The government cannot do everything. We have to help fund our own future.”

The popularity of the program has grown since Awosoga first started donating – something the assistant professor is very happy about. Still, Awosoga believes support for SOS could be stronger.

“There should be one hundred percent participation among faculty and staff,” says Awosoga. “Everyone can donate something, no matter how small. Ten dollars, twenty dollars a month – that’s not much. But if we all gave that much it would be a lot. And it would make a big difference.”