A Son's Heartfelt Thank You
All of us who admire our fathers can recall a time when we have swelled with pride and thought, “My dad is the greatest.”
Aidoo Osei, the son of Purdue alumnus Odell Johnson (BSME ’62), has experienced many such moments. Osei, director of strategic business development at Intel Corp., decided that the best way to honor his dad was to name a Purdue Engineering scholarship for him. Osei and his four siblings, Angela Amerson, Odell Johnson Jr., Randy Johnson and Wendy Johnson, agreed that the scholarship should support future engineering students who follow in their father’s footsteps.
With many worthy charitable causes to consider, Osei says that creating the scholarship fund was “highly aligned with my father’s mindset, both as a parent and as a professional.”
“He has always focused on achievement and been an advocate of education,” Osei says. “He’s always talked about the importance of getting a technical degree or technical education. He has done a tremendous job with me and my siblings, and pretty much anyone who’ll listen. Much of that started at Purdue.”
When he enrolled in 1957, few students at Purdue looked like Odell Johnson. But Johnson’s focus was on the rewards he would earn with an engineering education, not on his minority status.
“The black students kept to themselves,” says Johnson, now 77 and retired after a highly successful career. “We didn’t pledge fraternities. We didn’t have a whole lot of socialization. We had studying to do. It was hard in that the courses were challenging and I had to work a number of jobs along the way, but I just had a deep belief that I could succeed if I really applied myself.”
After graduating, Johnson worked briefly for General Motors Corp. before serving his Purdue ROTC obligation in the U.S. Army. Again a conspicuous minority, he was one of a small number of African-American lieutenants in the Army at the time. After the military, he returned to General Motors Detroit Diesel, where he used computers to improve the engineering process. His technical expertise led to a position in flight test systems and computing for Boeing’s 747 program. After the plane took its maiden test flight, Odell returned to GM and the work of engineering new car programs.
A prolific problem-solver, Johnson managed GM’s test vehicle program and developed engineering business systems for the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac, Detroit Diesel Engine and GM Truck divisions.
Johnson says he would like the Odell Johnson Scholarship to benefit students with strong work ethics, ambition and academic gifts: “A self-starter — a bright person with leadership qualities and goals in life, and the willingness to work hard to achieve those goals.”
Purdue’s Minority Engineering Program (MEP), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in fall 2015, administers the scholarship. MEP administrators consider the donor’s criteria, as well as students’ academic, cultural and geographic backgrounds, and their high school activities and leadership experience.
“MEP’s efforts to overcome myriad challenges that hinder underrepresented minorities from enrolling at Purdue have never been greater or broader,” says Virginia Booth Womack (BSIE ’91, BA Psychology ’92), MEP director.
“Affordability is a major focus,” Womack says. “In 2014, a rise in scholarships resulted in a 73 percent increase in accepted offers by African-Americans.”
Simultaneously, MEP has expanded its outreach to help high school students be better prepared for Purdue’s academic rigors. Womack says MEP will continue its mission to increase student access while identifying, understanding, and closing gaps between underrepresented minority students and the rest of the engineering student body.
MEP’s mission resonates with Osei, who once worked for the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, where he oriented new students, connected them to resources and ensured their long-term success.
“I’m connected to the mission of inclusion,” Osei says. “That was the second reason to honor my father this way — to improve the odds of success for underrepresented minority students.
“My father has always said, ’If I could do it in 1962, you can do it now.’”
To support the Minority Engineering Program, contact Hilary Butler, director of development, at 765-494-6383 or HAButler@prf.org.