Dr. J. Kalu Osiri, director of international business and associate professor of practice in management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Business, received the 2018 Chancellor's Fulfilling the Dream Award as part of the MLK Week keynote address, Jan. 17 in the Nebraska Union Auditorium. The annual awards are given to individuals or groups who have contributed to the university or Lincoln by their exemplary action in promoting the goals and vision of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Osiri's international education began at an early age. Born in Benin to Nigerian parents, he grew up speaking Igbo, Fon, English and French in a multicultural, multi-religious society.
He moved to Nigeria to finish secondary school and some additional studies. He then came to the United States, where he earned a bachelor's degree in analytical chemistry from Grambling State University in 2005 and a doctorate in bioanalytical chemistry from Louisiana State University in 2009.
Osiri started his career at Washington State University, working first as a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering and then as assistant clinical professor in entrepreneurship and international business.
His doctoral research involved developing tools for disease diagnostics, but he soon became interested in how to commercialize science, which brought him to business. He completed a post-doctoral program in international business and entrepreneurship from the University of Florida in 2010.
Osiri came to Nebraska in 2015. He teaches classes in international business, entrepreneurship and leadership. His current research focuses on what he calls the "chemistry of leadership" — the physiological effects that leaders have on people.
At Nebraska, Osiri has led study abroad trips to Uganda, France, Spain, Guyana and Panama. Over winter break, he and colleague Dr. Elina Ibrayeva, assistant professor of practice in management, took a group of 19 students to Panama to present business and marketing plans that they had developed in class to a teak plantation.
"The owner, who has been in the business for over 40 years, said he learned so much about teak and the global market from our students in their presentation," Osiri said. "It was really a successful program, and I was very proud of our students' performance. Students learn about international business consulting in these kinds of programs."
Osiri plans to return to Panama next winter break with a new project that he believes will help Nebraska. Students will research alternative uses of, and international markets for, Nebraska corn and other agricultural products. They will then travel to Panama to explore how to export the products via the Panama Canal.
This spring break, he is taking a group of students to West Africa. Engineering students are designing a solar-powered center pivot for irrigation, and business students are proposing a plan for technology-based farming in Togo and Benin.
In an increasingly interconnected world, Osiri said it is important for students to learn to lead effectively across cultures. He said studying in another country is a great way to develop empathy and understanding of others.
"When students travel, they also grow as human beings," he said. "They learn about themselves."
Meghan Matt, a sophomore international business student who nominated Osiri for the award, participated in the recent Panama trip. She said the class was unlike anything she had taken.
"Dr. Osiri encourages trial-and-error learning centered on experience and growth rather than points and a letter grade," she wrote. "This unique focus and mindset allow for personal and academic achievement that I have not experienced in the classroom before his class."
Matt also credited Osiri for encouraging her to join the International Business Distinguished Scholars and Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience programs at Nebraska.
"The fact that I can be part of a student's journey of personal growth, whether that's in the classroom here for a full semester or that's abroad, and just kind of seeing them blossom, is extremely rewarding and exciting," Osiri said.
Eric Buchanan, director of strategic partnerships for the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, also received the Chancellor's Fulfilling the Dream Award at the event.