As Western Washington University’s Compass 2 Campus (C2C) looks ahead to its seventh engaging year, Western’s assistant vice president for enrollment and student services and special assistant to the president for diversity Kunle Ojikutu and his wife, Diann, have found an inspiring way to celebrate the program’s substantial accomplishments.
The Diann and Kunle Ojikutu Compass 2 Campus Pathway Scholarship is the second gift tied to this progressive mentorship program: Compass 2 Campus fosters university and community academic collaborations that promote lifelong learning, and encourages and supports first-generation, underrepresented, low-income students who typically do not finish high school, to be empowered to consider secondary education in their future. The program sends trained Western students into selected Whatcom and Skagit schools to mentor and introduce young students to higher education; and, as the kick-off to the C2C connection, it brings more than 900 fifth-graders to Western’s campus every year for an immersive day-long visit.
Since its inception in 2009, the program continues to grow, with the fall of 2015 marking two new developments: the campus visit will have a significant focus on science as C2C partners with Western’s College of Science and Engineering and The International Society of Optics and Photonics (SPIE), and a new, in-depth, five-credit course, Youth Mentoring Toward Social Justice, will be offered to students as part of their general education requirements.
The Ojikutu gift doesn’t just acknowledge the innovative nature of the program – Kunle calls it “genius” – it also recognizes the critical next step for its young participants: the Ojikutu’s gift will provide scholarships for Western students who come to the University via the C2C program (The first of these students are due to arrive as WWU students in 2017).
Kunle and Diann both have long-term careers as educators, in the classroom as well as in administration, making them well-placed to know what’s required, what’s missing and where help is needed. “Without education I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Kunle who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and was supported through high school and higher education by scholarships. “I had a lot of help to be where I am today. I look back at my life story and see how education not only has changed my life, but my kid’s lives too. For first-generation students such as myself, I can tell you, education is the great equalizer. And when you have a wonderful, community-oriented program such as Compass 2 Campus, you’ve got to support it, to maintain a continuum, to give the kids something to look forward to.”
“Both Kunle and Diann have been significant supporters of Compass 2 Campus from its beginning and continue to support our mission today,” says C2C executive director Cyndie Shepard. “Their scholarship will provide financial help for students who enter WWU via the C2C program, promoting the many new students we hope to see at Western in the future, and also to honor and recognize the accomplishments of the C2C program. We are honored to have their leadership.”
“Kunle and Diann Ojikutu are outstanding leaders that understand the importance of creating intentional support through education,” added program manager Shar Sarté Prince. “Their generous gift will enable future scholars to be affirmed at Western and to create communities of committed lifelong learners. We thank them for their tremendous leadership and acknowledge their support of Compass 2 Campus, our community and collective future.”
For Kunle, the scholarship represents a massive “thank you” on multiple levels as well as, ideally, a positive beginning for many students’ futures. “Every single one of those individuals who were part of my sustenance, when I asked them, ‘What can I do to pay you back?’ They all say, ‘If you are in a position to help others, do it,’” he explains. “So my wife and I, our payback is to say thank you to those people, to the support I had, to keep the chain going. So this is our ‘thank you’ to the Compass 2 Campus people and a reminder to us all: If you really want to do something great, the best gift you can give to an individual is the gift of education. I call it the gift of life.”