Medal puts geography professor on the map

Steve Kunkler and Steve Kunkler

Few people ever get the chance to be recognized nationally, especially by a nation they don’t reside in.

Yet, Kefa Otiso, an associate professor in the geography department, was recently given a service award by the government of Kenya by Kenyan Amabsorder to the U.S. Peter Ogego on April 29 in Hannah Hall.

The Order of the Burning Spear is awarded to those who have given back to the nation of Kenya and its citizens.

A service award is one of the highest honors a person can receive from the Kenyan government, Otiso said.

Otiso received the award in recogniztion for his social work and for his work trying to improve the economic standing of Kenyans who live in the U.S.

Otiso was not alone in his efforts, as he worked in tandem with Atieno Ndede-Amadi, a former professor of business at the University.

One of the collaborations that Otiso was honored for was the conference in 2004, titled African Brain Gain. This event was meant to help Kenyans both socially and economically by promoting investment back into Kenya by mobilizing the Kenyan Diaspora-Kenyans living abroad.

Otiso has also done work for the Kenyan Scholars and Studies Association. The association consists of a group of scholars who want to help the nation of Kenya but do not have any ties to the country.

‘We use research to address issues Kenya is facing,’ Otiso said.

Those issues include both economic and social issues.

In order to improve Kenya both socially and economically, Otiso wants to enhance the education system in Kenya to help better the lives of the country’s citizens.

Otiso has already seen the impact education has had on himself and those around him.

‘Many people in my family have been able to move up in life largely due to education,’ he said. ‘We are trying to give others the same opportunity.’

For his efforts, Otiso received a medal similar in size to what an Olympian would receive.

‘The medal is like a sunflower with spears pointed out all around, and the ribbon is the color of the national flag,’ Otiso said. ‘The award recognizes that I have tried to make a difference in the lives of Kenyans, both in Kenya and those living abroad.’

As founder of the Kenya Scholars and Studies Association and secretary of the Gussi Educational and Advancement Resources, Otiso has been able to work with several people from across the U.S. who share the similar goal of helping Kenya prosper.

Included in this group is Joshua Bagaka, associate professor of educational research at Cleveland State University, who has helped Otiso plan conferences across the U.S.

The first conference was heldin 2008 in Minneapolis, and another conference is planned for July in Dallas.

Bagaka said the goal of the organization and conferences is to provide opportunities to improve the performance of

Kenyans and address the problems facing Kenyans by getting more people involved in finding solutions.

The mission of KESSA is to ‘mobilize more people to get involved in education by using like-minded educators in North America to be involved in advancing this cause,’ Bagaka said.’

Gichana Manyara, treasurer of the Kenyan Scholars and Studies Association, said the award is a major honor for Otiso, and that Otiso is one of several Kenyans living in the U.S. who are doing good things that should not go unnoticed by the Kenyan government.

‘This is just a symbol to show that Kenyans from [the] U.S. came from somewhere, and that we have the capacity to do something to give back to society, and that is the idea of the Order of the Burning Spear,’ he said.