Meet Okey Ukaga
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This article originally appeared in Extension's employee newsletter.
Position: Executive Director, SE Regional Sustainable Development Partnership
Time at Extension: 19+ years
What is your favorite part about working for Extension?
My favorite part is engaging with community and university stakeholders to find resources to meet local needs. I enjoy working with board members and partners to plan and support efforts to improve the economic, social and environmental sustainability of our region. I especially enjoy my work in the areas of tourism and resilient communities, clean energy, sustainable agriculture and food systems, and natural resources. For almost 20 years I led our northeast region, and I am now excited to take my experience to work with our board and partners in the southeast region of the state.
What led you to your current position?
I earned my doctorate from Penn State in 1993. I stayed in the Department of Agricultural & Extension Education for a while before I accepted a postdoctoral position in Colorado. My former department head at Penn State got a new position at the University of Minnesota as the dean of Extension and started sending me information about open positions there. I knew I had identified the perfect fit when I received the announcement for Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships Director. I liked everything about it—the multidisciplinary nature of the work, the partnership between the university and the community, the focus on sustainable development. So I applied. I was interviewed by the regional board, selected by them and offered the job. That was almost 20 years ago, and it has been a wonderful ride since then.
Can you talk about your and RSDP's involvement in the Mandela Washington Fellows program?
I served as the site supervisor for emerging Nigerian leader Kola Olaniyi as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. During his 6-week stay in Minnesota, Kola visited sustainable food, rural grocery and clean energy sites and met with faculty and staff on both the Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. He is one of the 1,000 outstanding young leaders that visited the U.S. last summer through the U.S. State Department Young African Leaders Initiative, which aims to empower young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa. This year, I received a reverse visit award to travel to Nigeria and collaborate with Kola and Bells University of Technology in Ota, Nigeria. We will share sustainability learning between Minnesota and Nigeria.