Joseph Omo-osagie knows everyone, or at least it seems that way. We connected through kids playing soccer together; he taught SP photographer Kwamé, in first grade, and Omo-osagie himself says that his mother is often approached by his former students, even when she travels outside of Champaign-Urbana. After stepping into his office and having a conversation about his life and work, it’s obvious why this is the case. He’s welcoming, open (he leaves his Facebook page public so any current or former students can connect with him), and actively seeks to not only help others, but make genuine connections with them.

Omo-osagie came to the U.S. from Nigeria, and began school at Parkland in 1981, hoping to go into international relations and possibly law. Life took him in a different direction, one that involved dropping out of school for a while and working before returning to complete his education. After volunteering with the local women’s shelter, now Courage Connection, he realized that working with people was where he needed to be. He’s been an educator in one way or another ever since, beginning with teaching at (then) Urbana Junior High and King Elementary School. Now, Omo-osagie is an instructor and counselor at Parkland College, where he’s been for 15 years. “I get a chance to not only work with people just out of high school, but also people changing careers and looking at how they want to live the rest of their lives.” You may also find Omo-osagie teaching fitness classes in town, or even on a local stage.

I’m cheating a bit for this installment of What’s In Your Bag, it’s going to be a What’s In Your Office. It’s stretching the format, but it’s my column, so I get to do that if I want, and truly, a person’s office is just as much a reflection of who they are as the contents of their bag. So here goes!

1. It’s a Chinese symbol for crisis, which means danger and opportunity. A lot of times we only see danger, instead of seeing an opportunity in it. You just have to find it.

2. I got to meet Kim (Bryan of Rattle the Stars), we did a radio thing for WILL together, and then we just kept in contact with one another. (Many students of his knew her son Sam, who committed suicide at age 19, and that moved him to get involved with the cause).

3. Because I’m an international.

4. This was done by a student of mine who took a class, Humanities 121, which is Women, Culture, and the Arts. It’s a wonderful class. My student did not initially want to take it, and I said “You've got to give it a shot.” She took the class and said this is what she felt like after the class. She learned a lot about herself, and learned what she wanted to be, she just felt like she was radiating after the class. I’ve subbed the class...having the opportunity to teach a women’s studies class is fun.

5. Some students have a difficult time with my style. I laugh a lot, but I try to evoke some type of feeling with them. As an advisor when they say these are the classes I want to take, I say “okay why do you want to take it, what do you really want to get out of this experience.” Some students do get upset and uncomfortable by the nature of those types of questions. This young man, at the end of the semester, out of the blue just handed (the mug) to me. He said, “I appreciate that you pushed me to think about things I did not want to think about.”

6. The guy who does that (Two Million Blooms), we have some of his bees on our property. (Omo-osagie also has chickens, and until recently, goats)

7. I teach Human Sexuality almost every semester, and one of the things I teach in that class is being a critical thinker. What does sexuality mean and what do you want out of it. It’s not just a physical thing. One of the advisors from the technical department told me some of her students said my class is “false advertising.” I want you to think about it, I want you to talk about it. One of the guys that said it was false advertising ended up doing one of the best presentations on vasectomies. He ended up adding a lot to the conversation in class.

8. These are all gifts from students: Korea, Columbia, Indonesia, Thailand. I work with a few internationals that deal with adjustment issues. I’ve had some of them over for dinner, invite them to Thanksgiving, which is a hard time especially if you are from a tropical climate...it’s starting to get cold, and it gets dark at three o’clock. I’ve had them come over or do something with them outside the work environment. Community is not just something that happens, it’s something that we choose to do.

Photos by Kwamé Thomas