Karen Okigbo really is a mover and a shaker. And the University of Pennsylvania is the right spot for her.
Born in Nigeria, Okigbo lived in Kenya for a few years before she flew halfway around the world and relocated to Fargo, N.D., with her family.
When she found herself at the top of her class in high school, she decided to hit the East Coast and moved up to the Ivy League, where she earned a B.A. in political science at Princeton University.
Then, Okigbo moved back home to Fargo and earned a masters in sociology from North Dakota State University, where she continues to serve on the board of directors and the executive committee of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition.
“I was interested in better understanding the integral role of policy in addressing issues of social justice and inequality. The MSSP program at the School of Social Policy & Practice was the perfect fit for my interests, plus its emphasis on evidence-based social reform reflected my strong appreciation for research,” Okigbo says.
Even with two graduate degrees, Okigbo is still moving and shaking.
The Center promotes youth achievement through staff support and professional development. With a focus on out-of-school-time programs, the Center identifies and coordinates resources, conducts research and evaluations and recommends changes in practice and policy.
Today, many children live in households with two working parents or single guardians. Most delinquent activities occur between the hours of 3 to 6 p.m., and so these hours represent opportunities to nurture the academic, social and personal skills children need to thrive.
While staff support and professional development are consistently associated with increased student achievement in out-of-school time programming, the effort has been hindered by time constraints, increased training costs, minimal access to resources, high turnover rates and limited expertise.
Nearly a decade ago, the Out-of-School Time Resource Center was created to address these challenges.
“Out-of-school-time staff are expected to do so many things, know so much content, and have so many skills,” says Nancy Peter, the director of the OSTRC. “These staff are expected to be classroom teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, academic coaches, career advisors, science experts, art instructors and more. I wanted to make their lives simpler by helping them find what they need to do their jobs.”
By identifying, providing access to, coordinating, conducting research on and evaluating professional development programs, the OSTRC supports the staff and programs that serve children and youth.
With support from the William Penn Foundation and other funders, the OSTRC’s scope and services have expanded well beyond Philadelphia. The OSTRC now serves state-wide and national colleagues, consumers and affiliates.
“There is no way I could have envisioned enjoying the work as much as I have and feeling as fulfilled as I do," Okigbo says. “I feel so blessed to have found a position where I am able to conduct research on issues that I am passionate about, while working with amazing colleagues.