Obioha Ogbonna speaks on his goals, challenges, and accomplishments.
CSUDH Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President Obioha “Obi” Ogbonna isn’t your typical Toro student. Born and raised in Nigeria, Ogbonna graduated from the University of Lagos with a degree in petroleum engineering before deciding to come to the U.S. to further his education. He is currently a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in cybersecurity.
In addition to serving as ASI president, Ogbonna attends classes and works as an intern for a cybersecurity team at a local medical company. In what is surely a first for an ASI president, Ogbonna has also won awards for his musical compositions in his native Nigeria. The multi-talented Toro sat down to discuss his time at CSUDH, the university’s challenges and accomplishments, and how he serves his fellow students.
How did a college graduate from Nigeria end up at CSUDH?
After graduating from the University of Lagos, I wanted to try something different. Because I’ve always been a techie, I wanted to transition to something more computer-related. During the pandemic, I knew that I needed a change. I needed a big reset, basically. So I did my research. Interestingly enough, DH was recommended as one of the best value-for-money schools to earn a cybersecurity degree. So that’s what made me apply to CSUDH.
What are you planning to do after graduating?
The main reason I came to the U.S. was to gain the experience I needed, because in Nigeria cybersecurity is something we are really lacking. My aim is to learn as much as I can at the university and on the job, to try and get enough experience so that when the time comes to go back to my country, I’ll have something to offer. I’d like to modify how we do cybersecurity there, to teach people back home the skills I’ve learned here.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the ASI right now?
I think one of the major challenges we have is getting students more interested in what we do and engaging the students. The COVID-19 pandemic sapped a lot from us. Students are coming in from high school who basically finished their schooling online. Now they are coming into the university and have no idea how to relate to so many new people. They have no idea how to relate with one another. A lot of them are locked in a shell.
Our challenge is to bring back that sense of community. We are hoping to have a lot of creative events that will get students involved. We resumed our Halloween Haunt event this year, and had over 800 students attend, which is more than double the number we had last year.
We’re certainly trying to bridge that gap, but we have 16,000 students. We’re really trying to make sure that students are properly engaged, not just with the university but with one another.
What are your goals as ASI president?
Basically, my goal is to build the campus community. I want at the end of this year for people to look back and say, “I had fun. I was able to interact with my professors. I was able to find new friends. I was able to have a good time on campus.”
I feel like that’s an important piece of the university experience, and that’s what I’m hoping to contribute to this school. It’s definitely part of the experience that’s been lost over the last couple of years, to the students’ detriment.
The fact that a student from Nigeria could become ASI President speaks a lot about CSUDH…It’s an all-welcoming institution.”
What is your typical day like as ASI president?
Well, my typical day is very interesting and usually starts with work. I currently have an internship in a medical company’s cybersecurity team. I usually work from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. After work, I get ready and come to school. Then I’ll have some ASI business in the afternoon. In the evening, I try my best to get my studying done. I have to make sure I keep my grades up!
What has been your biggest success so far as ASI president?
I think my biggest success so far is being able to engage students. I feel like my methods are working, in terms of getting students engaged and excited. Like I said, the last event that we had doubled the attendance of last year’s equivalent event. We’ve also been able to attract more people to be interested in being on the ASI board of directors.
But a huge part of my success is based on the people who work here in ASI. I have a very passionate and driven board of directors, and the professional staff have been very intentional in recruiting the right staff to serve the students. We have really good people who are doing awesome stuff. Sometimes people give me credit for some of this, but I always give credit to the staff and other board members, who are doing a beautiful job. They really love students and are really sensitive to their needs. I think that’s one of the key reasons why we are now attracting more students into ASI.
What has been your favorite moment so far as president?
My favorite moment was speaking at the Juneteenth Symposium. There were people at that event that I never would have dreamed of meeting. I got to be on stage with Cornel West! This was someone that I only saw in books over in Nigeria. That was kind of intimidating, but it was a really good moment and made me reflect a lot, especially about how I wanted to engage the community. I think that event was when I decided how I wanted to build a community here. It was during that event that I figured it out.
What are the biggest concerns you hear from students?
I think the biggest concern is food insecurity, although housing insecurity is getting worse and worse. The university is actually very responsive to students who are in need. But one of the major problems is that students don’t have the information they need to be able to access sensitive resources. There are lots of times I’ve listened to students and then had to redirect them and tell them exactly who to contact.
That’s one of the things I’ve advocated for. We talk about food and housing, but I think information is a basic need, as well. People need to know about something to be able to use it. You can have so many resources, but if nobody knows about them, they don’t get used.
I would say the lack of space on campus is another big issue. We have lots of resources but don’t have enough space to house them all.
Where do you see CSUDH in 10 years?
I see the university switching from a commuter campus to a residential campus. I see a lot of changes coming, especially with the new strategic plan being put in place. I definitely cannot wait for the Health, Wellness, and Recreation Center to come online. There are also talks about a new phase of housing and dining. I see the school moving into being more of a traditional university, where a lot of students are living, working, and going to school on campus.
What is special about attending CSUDH?
The fact that an international student from Nigeria could become the ASI president speaks a lot about CSUDH, and the fact that it’s an all-welcoming, all-embracing institution. A lot of resources are provided. The university is really invested in student success and I appreciate that. One of the reasons I’m happy to be the president is that people can see that I’m from a different country, but I’m still being given the opportunity to represent the students. It speaks a lot to the culture we have here on campus. It’s the perfect place for me and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Many former CSUDH ASI members have gone on to careers in public leadership. A few notable examples, with their current title and ASI office:
- Justin Blakely, LA County Commissioner
- Rex Richardson, Mayor of Long Beach
- Jose Solache, Lynwood Mayor Pro-Tem
ASI Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs
- Khaleah Bradshaw, Carson City Clerk
- Grace Iheke, Legislative Staff, U.S. House of Representatives