The value of education   

Learn how Graduate Scholars of Excellence is providing Douglas Odongo, doctoral student in social work, with opportunities to use his passion to inspire others, while leaving a lasting impact.

Douglas Odongo is a doctoral student studying Social Work. As a Ghanian, education is everything. His father encouraged him and his siblings to reach for the stars when it came to education. Once his father passed away in 2015, he knew he needed to continue in his honor.  

Pursuing a master’s degree wasn’t enough. Once he told his siblings that he wanted to pursue a Ph.D., they made arrangements to make it happen.  

A friend recommended the University of Missouri, and he never looked back.  

Getting involved 

Odongo didn’t just want a degree. He wanted make an impact. When a friend recommended he participate in Graduate Scholars of Excellence (GSE), a program that offers engagement opportunities, provides personal, academic, cultural, social professional and leadership support, and gives GSE Scholars the opportunity to mentor and guide current and prospective undergraduate students, he was instantly interested.  

“I realized I made it here because I had a mentor back in Ghana,” he said. “Having a mentor in your life really helps. So, if I have the opportunity to invest in someone else, that would be great.” 

In Ghana, Odongo had the opportunity to mentor students. Here it was in a different context, but still an amazing experience for him. 

“Through GSE, I went to a Southern Region Education Board (SREB) conference in Atlanta,” he said. “That was my first time traveling outside of Mizzou. GSE has provided me with opportunities to mentor people, but it has invested in me as well.” 

Looking back, he recalled being anxious when he was first recruited for the program. “I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said.  

When he experienced challenges in his studies he realized, “IDE wasn’t just a division, but it was a family.” He was connected to resources to help him be successful. 

Involvement led to community and opportunity  

Participating in GSE introduced Odongo to other Ghanaians and Nigerians and helped him build a community of scholars who also support him.  

“Though I am doing social work, my focus is on Autism,” he said. “I met other people from the biology and chemistry departments who have some ideas on what I am doing. My community keeps getting bigger and bigger and GSE has played a major part in that.”  

GSE has proven to be an invaluable experience for him, not only has he mentored students, but he has been invested in too. Through GSE, he has connected with individuals within the Columbia Public School system.  

“Though I was called to come help, I benefit more because I developed connections I needed. Every time I get any opportunity from the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE), I reap more than I was expecting.” 

Investing in others 

Becoming a mentor made him more responsible. “Now I have to be an example,” he said.  

Odongo made sure his mentee felt heard. “She felt there was someone to talk to and there was someone looking out for her,” he said. As her mentor, he was able to ‘strengthen her ambition,’ and make the idea of achieving a degree attainable.  

Being a mentor with GSE gave him a greater appreciation for the importance of giving everyone a chance to participate and feel included. 

“I remember one professor had a talk with us and said there is a difference between inclusion and diversity. You can be recognized but you won’t necessarily feel included. So, within inclusion, you feel like you really have been called to participate. So that is what I feel IDE is doing.”  

Through mentorship, Odongo feels the GSE program allows participants to unlock their potential. “They are letting people know that coming to Mizzou is not just coming to read books, take courses and going home,” he said. “They will connect you, build on your potential so you can be a better version of yourself.” 

A bright future  

Odongo once wondered what it would be like to attend an ivy league intuition. Once he came to Mizzou he realized, “Mizzou may not be an ivy league school, but it gives you an ivy league experience.”  

Through GSE, he feels that he can impact society. Now that he is a mentor to someone else, he is more conscious of himself.  

 “GSE empowers you not only to recognize your potential but provides you with opportunities to you put that potential into use.”  

Initially, Odongo never thought he would be a social work student. In fact, he wanted to be a pilot, but now that he is in this field, he has no regrets. “I think I would do it again if I had the chance,” he said. 

 Once he finishes his Ph.D. in social work, he hopes to become a professor at a research institution and one day, take his talents back to Ghana and share what he has learned with others.