Omolayo Ojo’s $10,000 award covers her expenses to study in Senegal for the fall semester as she conducts Lumen Prize research on African emigrants to the United States.
An Elon University sophomore will spend the fall semester in the West African nation of Senegal with funding from one of the nation’s premier awards for undergraduate overseas travel and learning.
Omolayo Ojo was named a recipient of a 2013-2014 David L. Boren Scholarship, which gives students financial backing to study the languages and cultures of Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Eurasia, and Central and Eastern Europe.
Funded by the federal National Security Education Program, the scholarship requires recipients to work for at least one year after their college graduations in a government position related to U.S. national security. This year, 947 undergraduate students nationwide applied for the scholarship, of which only 161 were awarded.
Ojo, an international studies and strategic communications double major, is the first Elon University student to receive the honor since the awards were first distributed in 1994.
Ojo is an Honors Fellow and recipient of the Kenan Scholarship, the university’s top award for incoming students that covers full tuition for four years. She is a member of the Periclean Scholars Class of 2015 as well as Sigma Iota Rho, the international studies honor society, and this spring was named one of 15 recipients of the Lumen Prize, Elon’s top award to celebrate undergraduate research and creative achievement.
“Receiving the Boren Scholarship is my go-ahead to continue learning as much as I can about West Africa,” she said. “I will have the opportunity to truly delve into the Wolof language and the Senegalese culture. In addition, the service requirement of the Boren, in which I may work for the State Department for a year, will allow me to explore my interests in international relations.”
The Boren Scholarship will enable Ojo to take part this summer in the African Language Initiative at the University of Florida. She will study the Wolof language for eight weeks using $7,400 from the NSEP before heading to Senegal.
Ojo’s research interests are in African Studies, particularly West Africa and its diaspora communities. Ojo, who moved as a child to the United States from Nigeria, said the intersection of development and migration studies “really fascinates me” and she believes the topic is essential for the growth of several nations in the region.
Immigration is the focus of Ojo’s Lumen Prize project, which is funded with a $15,000 award to support her research, and her curiosity earned raves from her faculty mentor.
“She’s looking at this issue in the light of transnationalism, a new approach to thinking about globalization,” said Associate Professor Tom Mould in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “She’s doing many of the things a master’s or PhD student would be doing for their research – learning the local languages, immersing herself in the local culture, making personal connections with the major scholars in the field – but she’s doing it as an undergraduate. Even the nature and scope of her question is ambitious beyond her years.
“At the heart of her research is this idea of ‘home.’ It’s a theme that is relevant to her personally as well as intellectually. Her ability to bring that additional dimension to her research will be powerful, not just for her, but for the Senegalese people she works with.”
Ojo’s long-term plans are to pursue graduate study in international relations, community development or international law, ideally after completing a Fulbright fellowship for which she plans to apply as a graduating senior.
On campus, Ojo is the co-founder and vice president of the Elon African Society, and she works through Elon Volunteers! as co-coordinator of student volunteers for Ashton Woods, a refugee community center in Greensboro, N.C. She also serves as a student assistant in Elon University’s Office of the President and in the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center.
“So many things stand out with Omolayo,” Mould said. “She has this intensely magnetic personality. To meet Omolayo is to feel like you know Omolayo. You think, ‘Now there’s somebody who has interesting things to say, she’s thinking about interesting things, and she’s going to do interesting things.’”
Ojo is the daughter of Valentine Ojo and Agathachristy Ojo of Tall Timbers, Md.