During a recent trip to Kenya, Charles Owubah (center), vice president of World Vision East Africa, provided a couple of helping hands to a young victim of the Horn of Africa drought.
Seventh in a series highlighting this year’s recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The award honors mid-career alumni who have a record of outstanding accomplishments, have made significant contributions to their profession or society and have exhibited high potential for professional growth. The series will continue each day leading up to Friday (March 1), when the nine honorees will receive their awards during a 3:30 pm. EST convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom. A 2:30 p.m. reception, open to the public, will precede the convocation.
Charles E. Owubah, MS ’92, PhD ’99, as regional vice president of World Vision East Africa, oversees leadership and management of nine national offices in East Africa with an annual budget of $546 million and more than 6,000 staff.
World Vision East Africa is a humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities in tackling the causes of poverty in more than 100 countries. Owubah, a native of Ghana, has worked for World Vision in the U.S. and Africa since 1999.
“The College of Agriculture should be immensely proud of his successes and his commitment to the betterment of society,” said his nominator, Rob Swihart, head of Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.
• Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? Dennis C. LeMaster, a former head of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and my major professor. Dr. LeMaster had high expectations of me and pushed me to deliver. He asked me to apply for a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship even though I had not spent enough years in the PhD program to apply. I was pleasantly surprised when I was a selected as a fellow of the foundation’s Summer Institute for African Agricultural Research in 1996. Soon after, Dr. LeMaster and I set our sights on the most prestigious of the Rockefeller Foundation fellowships — the African Dissertation Internship Award. Dr. LeMaster challenged my initial concept paper, constructively critiqued my thinking and motivated me to submit my application. The foundation awarded grants to only seven of the 67 applicants. It is noteworthy that two of the seven were from Purdue University — Jean-Philippe Tré and me. This was a special moment for us and for the Purdue community.
• What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? I am looking forward to meeting with Dr. Phil Pope, Dr. John Lee and other professors who became my buddies as part of my education at Purdue.
• Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? I first heard of Purdue through Dr. Elie Asem of the Veterinary School. In 1989, I began the process of attaining a master’s degree. I happen to read a letter from Dr. Asem about how great Purdue University was. I decided to add Purdue to the list of American universities I was seeking admission to, including University of Michigan and State University of New York at Syracuse. I narrowed my selection to Purdue and Michigan. I chose Purdue for a number of reasons, including that I thought Purdue would be warmer than Michigan because West Lafayette was on a slightly lower latitude than Ann Arbor. Wrong!
• Where was your favorite place on campus to study? My office on the second floor of the forest products building was the best place for me. It was usually quiet, and I had a strong connection with my fellow graduate students in the building.
• What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? I miss the basketball season, especially the seasons when coach Gene Keady led the Boilermakers to the Big Ten championships.
• Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? Yes, but Purdue was also very demanding. I learned this during my first semester. As a result of delays in securing a visa to travel to the United States, I arrived on campus almost two weeks after the start of the semester. Catching up was tough. The only way to do so was to work extra hard — something I kept doing throughout my studies. My professors responded and rewarded me with good grades.
• What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Humankind has an innate capacity to achieve greatness. Looking back at my life at Purdue and my current job, I have come to understand that greatness is possible only if we are deliberate about it.
• What is the best advice you have ever given? I encouraged and helped a fellow African student to bring his wife to join him at Purdue. The wife ended up being the anchor of the family during tough times.
Read about other 2013 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.