2013 Lindley Award Winner Tolu Adekunle strives for global change

Tolu Adekunle

Tolu Adekunle | 2013 Lindley Award Winner continued . . . 

“I was a young black African student in Moscow, Idaho - there were not very many people like me around,” said Tolu. “Not only did I have to get acquainted with the American system of education, I also had to get used to the accents of my professors who were not exactly aware of the plight of an international student sitting in the front row who could barely understand what they said.”

However, for someone as driven as Tolu, these cultural and academic challenges didn’t discourage her from succeeding and becoming greatly involved with a variety of organizations on campus. Her activities include being a co-chair for Oxfam, regional director of the Borgen Project, a columnist for the university’s newspaper The Argonaut, a peer mentor for the PACE program, Communications Chair of the National Society of Black Engineers, and a member of both the International Affairs Club and African Student Association (ASA). This involvement helped her leadership skills flourish.

“ASA is a group primarily made up of African male graduate students who under normal circumstances will not be very accepting of the leadership of a younger female. Regardless of this obstacle, I have been able to lead the club with the support of its members and successfully organized one of the best African Nights yet,” said Tolu. “I have learned that leadership is not about giving orders or taking control, but helping people to realize their strengths and what they can contribute to the success and growth of an organization.”

Tolu is also a Martin Scholar, and has worked as a Research Assistant in the field of Communication. Outside of the University of Idaho campus, Tolu furthered her leadership skills abroad as she spent a summer internship in Notse, Togo.

“As a student with an emphasis in international development, this experience was priceless as it actually gave me a feel of what it was like to work with community members on carrying out development projects,” said Tolu. “The U of Idaho places emphasis on volunteering and community service, and we were able to continue this legacy in Notse.”

During her time in Notse, Tolu, along with 11 other Idaho students, volunteered at a local orphanage with children two weeks to 10 years old, assisted Non-Governmental Organizations that were helping local people, and organized a community soccer game to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

“During her [Tolu’s] internship, she distinguished herself by initiating creative outreach activities early in her internship,” said Romuald Afatchao, Associate Director of the Martin Institute who accompanied Tolu in Notse.

Afatchao, who was once an international student himself, has a particular understanding of what it has taken for Tolu to be successful.

“I emphasize the courage with which Tolu has undertaken her education abroad, at this [Idaho] University,” he said. “To my mind, this speaks to an intellectual openness and modesty of spirit that are the hallmarks of all good citizenship.”

Tolu admits that it’s been challenging, but has flourished with the foundation Idaho has provided her.

“The young black African girl of three years ago has been able to overcome her fears, take advantage of the opportunities that the U of I offered, make excellence a habit, and perform outstandingly well with the help of God,” Tolu said.

Tolu has recently been accepted into an M.A./Ph.D. program in International Development at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Wherever Tolu’s academic future takes her, Afatchao is also certain that she will be an asset in whichever community she decides to settle.

“Giver her academic and leadership skills, her passion for academic research and her dedication to reach out to a broad and diverse global public, I am convinced she has the makings of a first-rate scholar and citizen,” he said.

As Tolu pursues her future academic endeavors, she will continue to focus on the global community, keeping inspiration from a quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And Tolu has already started making changes, in excellent ways.

“We used to boast at the UI that ‘from here you can go anywhere.’ Tolu reminds us that from anywhere, you can find success at the UI,” said Smith.