Valuing cultures

 Michelle (Stopa '96) Ogunwale

michelle (stopa '96) ogunwale

One local college fair night in Cleveland, Ohio, encouraged Michelle (Stopa 96) Ogunwale to explore a path different than one she had planned. One conversation with a Bluffton University admissions officer, and Ogunwale realized that Bluffton s Christian values, service components and mission-mindedness were exactly what she was looking for in an institution. One visit to campus and she knew she was home: I fell in love with the place and the people, and that was it, says Ogunwale. I stopped looking.

Placed with a roommate from Russia during her first year on campus, Ogunwale s eyes were opened to the world around her. Through Anna, I met other international students on campus, she says, and I was exposed to their cultures, their struggles and reasons for coming to Bluffton. I left Bluffton saying, I definitely want to work internationally, and I want my life to circle around Christ and service to others.

With an interest in nutrition, Ogunwale earned her bachelor s degree in dietetics and enrolled in Southern Illinois University s Master of Science in nutrition program. Upon becoming a registered dietitian, Ogunwale set out to complete a service trip overseas, something she had wanted to do ever since her time at Bluffton. She joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to work as a nutrition health professional in Suriname, South America. She served two years with Medical Mission, a healthcare organization in the interior of Suriname. I lived in a village, near a river, with no running water, electricity or toilet, says Ogunwale. It was like camping for two years.

Forced to quickly learn the native language or go home, Ogunwale spent her time teaching sanitation, water safety and STD/HIV prevention. She also worked on a nutrition research study in conjunction with the World Health Organization, surveying villages and their people and the foods they ate. The results of the study assisted in developing a nutrition education plan, specific to the region, people, culture and resources available. The area had and still has severe malnutrition, says Ogunwale. The villagers had the resources, but they simply were not aware and therefore not tapping into them.

When she returned to the United States in 2001, Ogunwale worked as a dietitian in an inner-city health clinic, helping with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Working with the WIC program was challenging because, again, resources were available, but people weren t tapping into them, says Ogunwale. Reconsidering her childhood aspirations of becoming a doctor, she enrolled in Cuyahoga Community College s two-year intensive, physician assistant program. After graduation, she took a position as a physician assistant in colorectal surgery at The Cleveland Clinic, where she continues today.

Ogunwale, who is married to a Nigerian-born gastroenterology fellow, remains active in the Northern Ohio Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Association (NORVA), serving as secretary. NORVA provides assistance in the local community, raises awareness of international issues and maintains connections with current Peace Corps projects throughout the world. Through NORVA, she works with African refugees from war-torn nations who have been brought to Cleveland by Christian organizations. Being a Christian isn t only about proselytizing, but about service to others, says Ogunwale. It s about empowering others to teach people to fish so that they can feed their village for the rest of their lifetime. Bluffton re-introduced me to the importance of serving others. It made me the person I am today, and I ll continue to try making a difference in the lives of others.