“Yes, I am from Kenya and yes, I am thin,” says Dr. George Odongo with a laugh, “but I am not a track star.”
He used to say that a lot, he explains, when he was working on the doctorate in special education at Texas Tech University, where there is a large contingent of gifted runners from Kenya.
Odongo is from Kisumu, a city of about a million on the edge of Lake Victoria in western Kenya. And it was in an extremely impoverished section of Kisumu that he came into contact with students who had very basic special needs … in a school with no resources to help them.
“I had taught in Kenya for about 5 years when I was posted to that school,” he says, “and we had no knowledge of how to help its special needs students. Some of us started helping on a volunteer basis, outside regular teaching time. Our intentions were good, but we had no skills. We simply didn’t know what to do.”
His desire to acquire the skill set for helping special education students led him to the United States. He applied to five graduate schools here, and he accepted an offer from Wichita State. Odongo then completed the doctorate in Texas, and he says that he still does the work of a scholar. “I still enjoy doing extensive reading and research. It all influences my teaching. I teach from my research.”
Part of his teaching involves social skills — “We work on ways of encouraging nondisabled students to develop empathy for those with disabilities” — as well as learning about specific disabilities. “Our students research and then do presentations on those. They also have to do a simulation, exhibiting how students with the researched special need will likely behave.”
He says that his being from a foreign country, having been raised in a markedly different culture, is discussed freely in his classes, opening the door to discussions about how students of different backgrounds and learning styles can be appreciated and helped. It’s a personal approach, and a productive one.
Odongo points out that Averett is small enough for students to develop very close relationships with professors, “almost to the point of individualizing instruction, due to our small classes. We have a very big focus on students and their development.”
Doctor of Education, Special Education, Texas Tech University
Master of Education, Special Education, Wichita State University
Bachelor of Education, Education, the University of Nairobi
Member, The American Council on Rural Special Education
Member, The American Association of the Deaf-Blind