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Developing his inner leader by sharing his experiences: Kehinde Olu Famule

| Denise Olson (story); Jesse Yang (video)

Photo caption: At various campus celebrations throughout his time as a Blugold, Olu Famule took great pride in sharing his Nigerian culture and his skills in traditional African drumming with the campus and greater community.

An important part of Blugolds making their way through college is their transformation to becoming the full-fledged forms of themselves, learning who they are and just how they want to contribute to their world.

One such transformation can be seen in Kehinde Olu Famule, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduating senior from Superior who goes by the name Olu. Famule moved through many stages of doubt and indecision in his first years as a Blugold, but later was able to find confidence and commitment to community on the other side of some pivotal student experiences.

“From the first day I struggled to know whether the decisions I made were the right ones, whether I was on the right path,” Famule says about his early semesters.

Since changing majors from biochemistry to biology with an art minor, Famule has come to believe that everything he went through had a purpose.

“With insight that came over time, I understand that the things that happened along my college career were meant to happen — the stressful nights, changing my major, coming to the right place at the time, were all essential to creating the person I am today.”

That creative person Famule has become is someone who has consistently helped to raise up those around him and to lead by example in cultural understanding and social justice advocacy.

Opening the door to his more creative side

Olu Famule self portrait

Olu Famule has built a strong set of photography skills, as seen in this 2019 self portrait.

When he changed majors and picked up an art minor, exploring photography and other aspects of the visual arts, Famule says it helped to open his mind to a new realm of creative career goals.

“My favorite class at that time was an introductory photography course with Jyl Kelley,” he says. “That class showed me right away that I was on the right path with the changes I had made. The skills and knowledge it brought me have opened a whole world of possibilities to me.”

After graduation, Famule plans to pursue an internship or entry-level position in filmmaking or cinematography and says a “dream job” might combine those fields with fashion design. 

“I still reminisce about the photography class experience — our projects, my professor and the people I met in the class. Overall, it was a very positive, formative experience,” Famule says.

Stepping into leadership roles

Famule has consistently pushed himself out of his comfort zone during his student career, beginning with taking a resident assistant position in the Marilyn Karlgaard Tower residence hall in 2020. He admits that it was not a role he ever imagined he would seek out but knew that it would develop his leadership skills.

But he did not stop there.

With most high-impact experiences that Famule took part in as a student, once he had experienced it himself, he knew he needed to help other students gain the same growth from unique Blugold experiences. For instance, after taking part in the Civil Rights Pilgrimage (CRP) as a traveler, he decided to help deliver this transformative immersion experience across the Deep South to other students, working as a program coordinator.

“Traveling to the iconic civil rights locations, meeting iconic civil rights leaders and hearing them tell their stories, the CRP experience gave me insight I could never find in a classroom,” Famule says. “It shaped me to be a person who actively fights against oppression.”

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, the CRP founder and executive director for diversity and inclusion at UW-Eau Claire, has been grateful for Famule’s willingness to lend his voice and perspective to coordinating on the program.

“Olu served as a coordinator for the Civil Rights Pilgrimage and helped to bring civil rights history to life for hundreds of UW-Eau Claire students. Through his work he inspired others to become social justice advocates,” Thesing-Ritter says.

Olu Famule and Blugold Beginnings youth participant

As a camp counselor for Blugold Beginnings summer programming, Olu Famule was able to share the benefit of mentorship with area youth during STEM camps.

Similarly, after taking part in Blugold Beginnings as a student paired with a faculty mentor, Famule became a counselor for the program’s summer STEM camps, thriving in an environment of teaching and mentoring area youth. Thesing-Ritter, former Blugold Beginnings director, says that the program and her family specifically were lucky recipients of Famule’s generous spirit.

“My own kids had Olu as a counselor and mentor and they adore him,” she says. “I count myself lucky that Olu chose to invest his time as a student lifting up youth in our community. His commitment to educating kids in our community helped give hundreds of youth the opportunity to explore STEM programming through UW-Eau Claire.”

Sharing his music and his culture

Like so many students at UW-Eau Claire, Famule has found a home base for much of his student experience in the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), a place he says was essential in his success.

“The Office of Multicultural Affairs is an essential space,” Famule says. “OMA is an organization that supplements academic support and offers emotional and mental support. Being a student of color in a PWI (predominantly white institution) is an extremely stressful and potentially traumatic experience. OMA offers a space where you can feel comfortable being yourself, a place for safe discussion and a place that develops and hones your natural skills and talents.”

Through OMA and the African Student Association, Famule found an avenue to sharing one of his Nigerian customs, his drumming at events like the campus Harambe African Celebration and the “Voices of Color: Share the Love” event at Pablo Center at the Confluence in early 2020.

In a 2020 campus story, Famule explained the deep personal meaning behind his music and his ability to share it with the campus community.

“Drumming connects me to my culture,” says Famule, who came to the U.S. from Nigeria with his family when he was 10 years old. “The U.S. is great but it’s easy to lose my connections to Nigeria. If I practice my culture, it keeps it alive in me. I do it to remind myself where I’m from.”

About his various opportunities to drum at events on campus and in the community, he explained that he sees it as spreading valuable cultural literacy.

“I seek experiences that broaden my perspective so I can be more culturally literate and help others be more culturally literate. It’s a never-ending journey. I want to help facilitate an environment where people feel understood.”

Michael Thomas, OMA student services coordinator, will miss the energy and perspective that Famule has brought to campus, but knows his contributions will continue elsewhere and will remain grateful for all his impact on the Blugold community.

“As a Nigerian American, Olu has brought a unique perspective to the UW-Eau Claire experience,” Thomas says. “I have been able to witness Olu challenge his peers to think very intentionally and thoughtfully when navigating courageous conversations across differences. While we will miss his positive disposition and innovative approach to student engagement, we know that Olu will continue being a transformational leader and wish him much happiness and success moving forward.”

To both Thesing-Ritter and Thomas, along with the other Blugolds who Famule thanks for their positive impact on his life, his message is one of simple gratitude.

“I appreciate everything they have done for me,” he says. “I am extremely grateful and will always carry their love and teachings wherever I go.”

Watch 2020 video featuring Olu Famule performing his drumming.