Newly installed as chair of a School of Education department with a new name -- career and technical educator preparation -- associate professor Benjamin Ogwo keys on workforce development, both in his adopted homeland and his native one. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Jos, in Plateau State, Nigeria. I grew up in Nigeria and then went to school at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. The University of Nigeria is a foremost African university modeled after the American land-grant approach.

When did you first become interested in career and technical education?

My earliest career aspiration was to be an auto mechanic engineer. My father was an auto mechanic technician who had a workshop where he trained people on how to fix cars. At some point, I got involved in doing the basics in auto maintenance -- bring me that tool, do this, do that. I noticed that he trained people to perform auto maintenance activities without allowing them to figure some things out and perhaps make a lot of mistakes that are avoidable. I thought, if one acquires more knowledge in technical education, one could help young trainees on a larger scale, and that would be great.

What can you tell us about your higher education? 

At the University of Nigeria, I did my degrees, including my Ph.D., in industrial technical education with emphasis in mechanical technology, which comprises auto mechanics, metalwork and machine shop practice. The technical education program at the University of Nigeria is a replica of those offered in American universities.

Where did you work after receiving your doctorate?

I started teaching in the Federal College of Education in Obudu, training teachers in the area of technical education, and subsequently joined the University of Nigeria. After earning my doctorate, I have also been involved in professional and consultancy activities in many countries, including Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, France, India, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda, United Kingdom and the United States.

When did you come to the United States, and why?

In 2007, I migrated to the United States as an adjunct visiting scholar at the department of learning and performance systems at Penn State University. I focused on mentoring workforce development graduate students on how to design research projects and apply for grants. I migrated to the United States mainly because my family lives here. My wife came to the United States in 1996 through the United States Diversity Lottery.

When did you come to SUNY Oswego?

In 2008. I saw the position as an advert in the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) job bank and was hired as assistant professor to teach (career and technical education) courses and coordinate the occupational competency examination.

What is your primary research interest?

I've been more in program development, policy studies, informal sector apprenticeship training development, work-based learning, instructional delivery and laboratory management in career and technical education. When you are going to train somebody, you start a needs analysis. Based on the outcome of the analysis, you develop a program that will solve identified performance challenges. One size doesn't fit all, even within the same class. So, I've been working on improving needs analysis techniques, while working with some of the international development agencies in order to use the outcome to develop customizable training programs. 

Does your work benefit your native country, Nigeria?

Yes. It's mainly in the area of workforce development. I've worked with a number of international agencies. Professionally now, I work with an international consortium with the World Bank, African Development Bank, Open Society Foundation, UNICEF, UNESCO and others to train the type of workforce that will be able to build the economy. Shortly before joining SUNY Oswego, I was principal investigator for the World Bank STEP grant project at the University of Nigeria’s center of excellence in vocational education.

What did you do with the World Bank STEP grant?

The World Bank STEP grant facilitated the signing of an agreement between the University of Nigeria and SUNY Oswego. Five colleagues and I traveled to Nigeria to facilitate a two-week professional development program for Nigerian technical education teachers. The World Bank was quite appreciative of how SUNY Oswego executed the project. The university is discussing the possibility of our facilitating another continuing professional development for education faculty members next summer.

And you want to get the word out about your department's name change.

We are no longer vocational teacher preparation. It is career and technical educator preparation. The law changed to "career and technical" from "vocational and technical" statewide, so even the state Education Department had to change its unit. But the change can be explained beyond the law. The "educator" concept includes teachers and trainers. That means we are still doing programs for teacher certification; we are also doing certifications for trainers who are going to work in companies or who might even decide to be consultants in the area of workforce development. So we have broadened the scope of our course offerings. With this new name, we're now working on program review.

You are taking over as chair at a challenging time.

Yes, there is a lot to accomplish based on the shared vision of the faculty; we have been working toward this for the past decade. Most of the initiatives that we are implementing now were initiated by my predecessor, Dr. Margaret Martin. 

What do you think of SUNY Oswego students?

I think they are amazing, at least the ones I've been privileged to meet. There's something I have come to learn about teaching: It's easier to teach someone who is interested in learning. Most of the students at SUNY Oswego are genuinely interested in learning. If you give them an assignment, they give it their best attempt. If they don’t get it -- it’s explained as an honest mistake associated with learning, a sincere attempt -- then you can now provide some remediation. Our students come here interested and motivated.

What do you think of your colleagues?

My colleagues are great. They have been extremely supportive in workforce development in Sub-Saharan Africa. We work together as friends, and their friendship is invaluable. I must say their friendship has been sustaining and motivational in my stay at SUNY Oswego. Their willingness and the efforts they invested in these projects can never be forgotten by the people we interacted with and those we trained.

What else do you do on campus?

I am a member of the Human Subjects committee. I've also been involved with committees on Learning and Teaching, Scholarly and Creative Activity, and international education committees such as internationalization of curriculum committee, visiting scholar committee and, currently, the Institute for Global Engagement. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

My free time, mainly, is to listen to music. (Laughs.) I like music of all shades. I also like to volunteer within the college community to help in any way that I have expertise. I equally enjoy mentoring younger people -- a couple of them can be online, helping with papers and concepts -- from Nigeria and some other African countries.

What else can you tell us about your family?

I have a wife and three children in Maryland. The first girl is in the eighth grade, the second girl is in fourth grade and the boy is in second grade. My wife works as a loan officer at the General Services Administration Federal Credit Union in Washington, D.C. Sometimes I see them every two weeks or three weeks depending on work.

Do you have anything else you want to say about your department? 

The faculty have developed a three-year strategic plan. The plan consists of activities designed to grow the department, improve relationships with the college and international community, as well as improve on the use of open education resources (OER) in reducing the cost of providing career and technical education. We intend to make the activities of career and technical educator preparation well known in New York, nationally and internationally. For example, we have online programs suited for international students and also for people within New York who want to make a career change to teaching any of the occupational areas. By the time they complete our program, they can give back to their communities as teachers. We will work with them and make accommodations for them to make the transition from one career to another.