By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University will host Elkanah Odembo, the Kenyan ambassador to the U.S, at 7 p.m. Thursday in McCool Hall’s Taylor Auditorium as part of both the Maroon Edition program and the university’s Academic Integrity Week.
The event, organized by the MSU Center for Student Activities, is free and open to the public. Odembo has ties to fellow Kenya native Wangari Maathai, late author of the 2012 Maroon Edition selection, “Unbowed.”
Before becoming ambassador, Odembo was the East Africa representative for World Neighbors, chairman of the Kenya Community Development Foundation and lead facilitator for the Kenya Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Consultation Process. Ameila Treptow, program coordinator for the Center for Student Activities, said Odembo’s visit is a unique opportunity for students and others in the community.
“It’s a really unique experience for them to get to experience someone like that and hear what they’ve done and what they’ve seen,” Treptow said. “It’s a way to open their eyes to what’s going on (in Kenya).”
MSU’s inaugural Academic Integrity Week is aimed at promoting integrity not only in academics, but also research, job searches, athletics and more, and the Maroon Edition program is a shared reading experience for incoming students, returning classes, faculty, staff and other community members. Linda Morse, chairwoman of the Maroon Edition committee, said Odembo’s personal ties to Maathai will make his perspective invaluable for Maroon Edition readers.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for our students to be exposed to a world-class diplomat,” Morse said, “and to have someone coming from Kenya who knew Wangari Maathai is especially important.”
Morse said the genesis of Odembo’s visit came shortly after the Maroon Edition committee chose “Unbowed.”
“Dr. Jerry Gilbert, our provost, made a personal visit at the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya in Washington, (D.C.) and at that time made a personal appeal to the ambassador of Kenya to come here,” Morse said. “Shortly after that, he agreed to come to MSU. We feel honored that he accepted our invitation.”
Odembo earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Sociology from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and a masters’ degree in community health from the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. He then used his American education to promote philanthropy, social responsibility, cross-sector partnerships and policy research, serving as a research officer for Nairobi’s African Medical Research Foundation and a member of the National Advisory Committee for Health Research.
As such, Morse said, Odembo is slated to tour MSU, including its division of agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine, its African American Studies Program, the Social Science Research Center and the President’s Commission the Status of Minorities.
“At the time Dr. Gilbert visited the embassy back in June, the embassy staff indicated the ambassador was eager to learn about MSU and possible relationships we might have,” Morse said. “So, it makes good sense to show him some of the applied research units we have. He also had an interest in our African-American studies program, so he will be meeting those faculty. We have one faculty member who’s from Kenya ... (and) we have one Fulbright scholar from Kenya. He’ll be meeting (them both).”