by Anna Pettus
Titilayo Okoror, a new associate professor of Africana Studies in Harpur College, is an advocate of collaboration.
"I'm African, so I think in African proverbs," she says. "My philosophy has always been there is a world of knowledge that is not in one person's back yard. Everybody has something to contribute and no knowledge is too small."
Previously a professor at Purdue, with a bachelor's degree in English studies and a doctorate in biobehavioral health from Pennsylvania State, Okoror has a diverse educational background that allows her to take knowledge from many different places. Although she received a previous English degree in Nigeria, she knew by the time she came to Pennsylvania State that she wanted to pursue an education in public health. Volunteering as an HIV counselor as an undergraduate further stimulated both her passion and curiosity as she interacted with the patients.
"I want to know more," she says. "I want to do more. I want to see what we can do differently. I want to engage with people on a very elemental level."
Since then, Okoror has gone on to be the lead data analyst on a five-year research project on Capacity Building for HIV/AIDS Research in South Africa, is the principal investigator of an ongoing study in Nigeria and Senegal where the cultural contexts in the daily management of chronic diseases is investigated, and was a past board member of the Indiana Society for Public Health Education. Ultimately, she has found that the decisions people make about their health are influenced by numerous factors. This directs her to pursue a "one size doesn't fit all" approach to her work.
Her multifaceted approach to her research also assists in her new position in the Department of Africana Studies.
"I see the synergy between Africana studies and what I do because my research focuses on people of African descent," she says.
Her multi-disciplinary position allows Okoror to contemplate not just how operating within the university can influence her, but how she can influence the university. She believes that Binghamton has the opportunity to design a health program that will "put the department and invariably the college on a platform that allows us not only to compete for what is out there in terms of funding going to research, but also compete in terms of academics by saying, 'We are the go-to place for doing interdisciplinary research.'"
She believes that Binghamton University has all the necessary pieces to create a program that will give students in the public health field a competitive edge; they just need to be re-arranged.
"The difference between cooking for a long time and cooking for a short time is how you arrange the wood," she says. "You can arrange the wood in a way that allows the fire to burn or you can arrange it in a way that all you'll get is smoke and you'll never finish your cooking. I'm hoping to arrange the wood the right way."
Her course of action for achieving this goal is currently leading her to talk to professors from different departments, such as anthropology, on collaborative research.
"The health challenges we have in the 21st century cut across all fields," she says. "I believe the more people we have at the table talking the more we can get a lot done."
Discussion is an important factor not just in her research, but also in her teaching style. In her classrooms, she fosters an environment where people can freely voice their opinions but are also open to correcting their misconceptions. She views her students as passionate and dedicated, and enjoys working with them outside the classroom as well.
"I'm not just interested in what you learn in class," she says. "I'm also interested in what's going on in your life. I've allowed an open forum where students can come talk to me and I listen."
Last Updated: 12/10/14