Back

Latest In

Welcome Week

Meet the Class of 2022: Max Cordoba

When incoming first-year Theatre and Math major Max Cordoba flew to Los Angeles in February to attend the National Unified Auditions—a one-stop shop for high school seniors to audition for multiple universities—he had never even heard of Butler University. The Neward, California native’s intention was to audition for mainly private schools that had a special musical theatre degree, explore those options, and then pick whichever school felt right, offered the best financial aid, and allowed him to learn more about not only the fine arts, but math as well.

He spotted Butler’s name and decided it was in his best interest to at least do one more session—it was additional practice, after all.

In most auditions, Cordoba was asked to perform two monologues and two songs. In the audition with Butler, Professor of Theatre William Fisher asked Cordoba to do one of each to start. Cordoba chose to sing Beautiful City from the Broadway production Godspell. For his monologue, he chose to read an excerpt as Hank from Marvin’s Room—a piece he believed would put him “over the top for the audition.”

After his monologue, Fisher and Cordoba made an instant connection over Marvin’s Room.

"I almost thought my audition with Butler was going to be a practice session, but after my talk with Professor William Fisher, I thought this could be the right school,” Cordoba said.

Cordoba explained to Fisher that he is a big theatre lover, but he wanted to also major in something a little more practical.

“I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, and I wanted to ensure I had math as a back-up since a major in theatre isn’t foolproof,” Cordoba said. “I really needed a school that understood that about me.”

Most schools Cordoba had talked to previously in the day had told him that pursuing math with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) was not a possibility. Fisher explained that at Butler it’s not a BFA, but rather a Bachelor of Arts, which offers more flexibility, as well as the option to incorporate his passion for math.

“He really convinced me to at least explore more,” Cordoba said, “Even though it’s really far away, Butler seemed open to my diverse interests.”

In April, Cordoba—joined by his grandfather—started the on-campus college visit journey,  exploring the various schools he was interested in—including Butler. While on campus, Cordoba had the opportunity to speak with professors, including Chair of the Theatre Department, Diane Timmerman. He also sat in on an improv class.

“The students were making me laugh. Just from that show alone, I saw what I loved about theatre,” he said. “The students were super friendly and amiable, and they love to act and perform.” When he left for his trip, he was excited about all the schools he was about to explore. After the trip, though, he realized that when he was making his rounds, he always found at least one thing he didn’t like—except for when he was at Butler.

“What really set it in stone for me for Butler was that it was a smaller school than most I was looking at, but it had a big school feel,” Cordoba said.

Cordoba arrived on campus August 12, and feels just as excited as nervous—as most students are their first year. Cordoba’s distance from his friends and family definitely makes it harder, especially when he was so involved with various theatre and chorus groups for the past eight years.

Despite the nervousness of new surroundings and being so far from home, Cordoba said he feels honored, “to go to a school that is super accepting and diverse.”

Max Cordoba
Welcome WeekArts & CultureStudent LifePeople

Meet the Class of 2022: Max Cordoba

What brought Max from California to Indiana was Butler Theatre's faculty and flexibility. 

The Highlight of My Summer...

Travis Ryan, Professor and Chair of the Biological Sciences

"The highlight of my summer was the first two weeks after graduation! My colleague Phil Villani and I led a class to Panama for an intensive field ecology course. We teach this course every other summer and it is always a real thrill to take a group of students to the tropics – most of them for the first time. Over the course of two weeks we saw red-eyed tree frogs, sloths, howler monkeys, white throated capuchin monkeys, dozens and dozens of bird species, and more shades of green than most people can imagine. The class hiked an island in the middle of the Panama Canal, toured a rain forest canopy from a crane, and visited a facility that serves as a refuge for several frog species on the brink of extinction. In addition to meeting with scientists studying the endless diversity of tropical biodiversity, we also toured a traditional slash-and-burn farm, visited with an indigenous tribe of Amerindians, and learned about sustainable permaculture on a cacao plantation. The class ended the two-week whirlwind tour of Panama exhausted, but with deeper understanding of tropical biodiversity and an appreciation of different ways to live off of and with the land. And, we are already planning the trip for 2020!"

 

Francis Mihm, Class of 2020, Dance Arts Administration

"The highlight of my summer was my trip through Eastern Europe with Butler’s dance department. The trip began in Warsaw Poland and continued on to Poznan, Krakow, Bratislava, Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague. The semester before I left for the trip the dance department began rehearsals to take with us as a mini showcase to present to the other dance schools that we visited. The showcase was a combination of student and faculty choreography and represented the diversity and versatility of our program.

Once we arrived in Europe we immediately got to work by taking classes with the National Ballet School of Poland and continuing rehearsals for our showcase. However, it wasn’t all dance all the time. We were able to do a lot of sight-seeing including visiting the home of Mozart and the famous salt mines in Salzburg as well as many of the great old palaces and museums of Poland and Europe. Overall, the trip was an incredible experience and I would strongly suggest it to any future dance students coming to Butler. Butler creates so many options for students to travel and study abroad that offer such rich experiences. It has changed my life and hope other students take advantage of that opportunity."

 

Ryan Rogers, Assistant Professor of Creative Media and Entertainment

"The highlight of my summer was traveling to Prague to present a research paper at the annual conference of the International Communication Association. I had the opportunity to chat with other researchers and see some exciting work in the field as well as share my work - ‘The Impact of Presenting Physiological Data During Sporting Events on Audiences' Entertainment.’ Outside of the conference, I got to enjoy the culture, especially the beer gardens like Stalin (the former site of a huge monument to Joseph Stalin) and Letna. After the conference, I left the Czech Republic to spend some time in Lake Bled, Slovenia where I hiked to Mala Osojnica and rowed a boat to the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary at the center of the lake. Then I took a bus to Budapest, Hungary where I ate some amazing food like Langos and Nokedli. I also spent some time in the ruins bar, Szimpla Kert."

 

Nate Fowler, Class of 2019, Mechanical Engineering and Economics

"In addition to my two summer classes and daily basketball workouts, a highlight of my summer was the opportunity to intern at RENU Property Management in Carmel, Indiana. The benefits of a Mechanical Engineering and Economics double major were revealed to me this summer through my job responsibilities. While the internship was not directly correlated with my Mechanical Engineering coursework, being an Acquisition Analyst at RENU utilized my analytical and critical thinking skills, as well as knowledge attained from the Economic courses I completed at Butler. My daily work at RENU consisted of using their proprietary analytics software to search and underwrite single family residential properties in markets such as Las Vegas, Charleston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis. I was fortunate to share the work experience with current Butler student-athletes, Will Marty and Joey Lindstrom throughout the summer as well. I am incredibly thankful for the experience and opportunity Tom Eggleston, Traves Bonwell, and everyone else at RENU gave me this summer!"

 

Lauren Tibbets, Class of 2019, Actuarial Science

"The highlight of my summer was having the opportunity to fully embrace my sport (golf) before entering my last year as a collegiate student-athlete. I spent most of my time around golf through my part-time jobs in the golf industry and my practice time. Through working part-time, I was able to practice more than last summer, and it led to some success – I won the Indiana Women’s Open and Indiana Women’s Match Play tournaments. I also got the chance to play in the Monday qualifier for an LPGA tournament held in Speedway, IN. The support I received throughout the whole summer topped off my experience. My dad caddied for me in every tournament; my mom and grandparents attended all of them; a few members of my Butler golf family were able to watch my final holes in the State Open. The success and support I experienced this summer have contributed to excitement and confidence that I am ready to carry into our season as Butler golf starts competing in September!"

 

Ena Shelley, Dean of College of Education

"This summer was one filled with new beginnings!  The COE had been located in Jordan Hall for 35 years so packing and purging were hurdles that we all jumped together.  Working with Colin Moore and his team to finish the details in our new space on South Campus was one of the best experiences of my 36 years at Butler.  On August 6 the moving trucks arrived and the process began. I then left the site with many of my colleagues for the opening of new second Butler Lab School at IPS #55.  It is named the Eliza Blaker School and she happened to be the founder of the COE.  The past, the present, and the future have all been connected for me in a summer that I will always treasure."

 

 

Kayla Long, Class of 2019, Critical Communication and Media Studies + Spanish Majors

"The highlight of my summer was my participation in the Indy Summer Experience (ISE) program. Although I have spent my entire college career at Butler University, I was still unfamiliar with city. ISE provided the opportunity to learn more about Indianapolis and capitalize on the remaining time in my undergraduate experience. Through the program this summer, I spent my Wednesdays networking with Butler University alumni and traveling to amazing sites around Indy such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the back rooms of The Children’s Museum (I touched a real dinosaur skull!). I not only learned more about what Indy has to offer but I also learned more about myself. With meeting alumni and visiting incredible professional spaces like Statwax/BLASTmedia and The Speak Easy Downtown, I have been able to envision my future as a young professional. ISE 2018 has opened my eyes to see Indianapolis as a hub of different environments, people, and remarkable spaces."

Francis Mihm
Welcome WeekPeople

The Highlight of My Summer...

From Panama to Poland, these Butler students and faculty had an amazing summer doing what they love.

Sonia Nazario
Welcome WeekCampus

Pulitzer Prize Winner Sonia Nazario Speaks to Butler Incoming Students

BY Marc Allan

PUBLISHED ON Aug 21 2018

Sonia Nazario has been writing about immigration for more than 30 years, and the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner told Butler University's incoming students on Academic Day, Monday, August 20, that she has a better approach to fix a broken system. Nazario's book Enrique's Journey was given to more than 1,300 incoming students as this year's common read. 

As she addressed students, she stated border enforcement, guest-worker programs, and pathways to citizenship have all failed. What the United States needs to do, she said, is:

  • Increase foreign aid to Central America to address the root causes of violence. In Honduras, she said, we are spending $100 million a year on violence-prevention programs. The money funds outreach centers that identify the most at-risk children and provides them with outreach centers, family counseling and other programs to keep them safe. The most violent neighborhood in that country saw a 77 percent drop in kids engaging in crime or abusing drugs and alcohol. Homicides are now being investigated there, and the number has decreased 62 percent. "I think this is a brilliant investment on our part," she said during her talk at Clowes Memorial Hall. "Spend millions there rather than having to spend billions on these kids once they arrive at our border."
     
  • Provide a safe haven for people who are arriving at our border and are fleeing danger. Instead of cutting the number of refugees we let in to 45,000 a year, we need to increase the number. If Germany can admit 1 million people, we need to show similar compassion.
     
  • Radically alter our war on drugs. "We spend $1 trillion on the war on drugs," she said. "Every household in this country has spent $10,000 in recent decades … by locking up non-violent offenders. And it hasn't worked." She advised more prevention, drug treatment, and legalizing small quantities of all drugs. "If you don't, you simply move the problem around," with violence shifting from Colombia to Mexico to Central America to, now, the Caribbean, she said.

Nazario, whose book recounts the harrowing story of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, 11 years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States, said the United States needs to uphold its core values.

Luke Haas with Nazario"During World War II, we turned away a ship with 900 Jews aboard," she said. "We wouldn't let them dock in our shores. Hundreds of those Jews were murdered in the Holocaust when they were sent back. You've all probably read The Diary of Anne Frank. Well, we rejected Anne Frank's family in 1941. And there was a moral reckoning in this country after World War II. We said never again. We were the leaders in providing the refugee movement around the world. Yet now, we are doing something that is all too similar."

She asked the students to get involved in some way and help end the immigration crisis.

"You can do anything that you set your minds to," she said. "And I think that you—unlike my generation, which has made a mess of this issue—you can actually provide real solutions that are humane and that actually work to slow the flow of people coming to this country illegally."

Nazario's visit to Butler was part of the Welcome Week tradition of inviting an author to campus to discuss a book that the new class has read. Jennifer Griggs, Academic Orientation Programs Manager, said the program "is really about bringing an intellectual experience into an overall orientation program and making that leap to academic life in the classroom."

After Nazario's talk, the students broke into groups with faculty members to discuss what she has said. The purpose of that, Griggs said, is to simulate course discussions and get students comfortable speaking and sharing and talking in the classroom when classes get started on Wednesday.

Luke Haas, a first-year student from Bath, Indiana, said he was glad to have a common read—and the chance to interact with Nazario.

"It definitely broadened my horizons," he said. "I'm more conservative, but I understand problems like this and how we need to fix them. This is a problem everyone is dealing with. She essentially put it out and there and said this is what we have wrong and there are things we need to fix. She does the research and understands that there are multiple places to blame—Republicans, Democrats, people in their own countries. She knows that certain things don't work because she has the statistics and the personal interaction to know."

 

Media Contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Sonia Nazario
Welcome WeekCampus

Pulitzer Prize Winner Sonia Nazario Speaks to Butler Incoming Students

 Enrique's Journey was give to 1,300 students as part of this year's common read. 

Aug 21 2018 Read more

Meet the Class of 2022: Maria De Leon

Maria De Leon
Major: Peace and Conflict Studies
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
High School: Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School


“I’m really looking forward to growing my professional network in my Butler experience.”

 


 

Incoming first-year student Maria De Leon is leading her family in a number of firsts.

She’s the first of her family members to graduate high school.

She’ll be the first to attend college. This fall, Maria will be one of 1,357 first-year students in Butler University’s Class of 2022, the University’s largest class ever.

Maria is also the first in her family to travel to Washington DC to participate in a sit-in to persuade senators to vote “yes” for a clean Dream Act.

And—as a result of participating in that protest—she’s definitely the first to text her Butler admission counselor to ask how getting arrested might affect her admission.

Luckily, Maria didn’t need to worry about the answer to her text. She was not arrested for her participation, although some of her travel companions were. But the protest was still an emotional experience for her.  While she isn’t directly impacted by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation, her family and many of her friends are.

“My parents are immigrants, so they are affected by the immigration laws that the current administration is trying to put into place. Whatever happens with DACA will have a direct impact on my parents and my peers who want to attend college but might not be able to,” she explained.

Maria’s civic involvement began long before her DC trip. The Crispus Attucks High School salutatorian participated in last year’s nationwide “A Day Without Immigrants” rally.

“It was after this experience that I started asking more questions,” Maria said. “I asked, ‘How can I be more involved?,’ and ‘What can I do to help?’”

It was questions like these that landed her in contact with the Central Indiana Community Foundation, where she had the opportunity to be a Community Ambassador. In this role, Maria conducted in-depth research on a community of her choosing. As the daughter of two Guatemalan immigrants, Maria chose to research the Hispanic and Latino communities in Indianapolis.

“I wanted to know what my community was facing. Just because I’m Latina and have immigrant parents doesn’t mean I know everything,” she said.

Beyond rallies, Maria was also heavily involved in advocacy and raising awareness about various social issues at her high school. She founded the International Club at Crispus Attucks and was also a leader in her school’s NO MORE Club, designed to raise awareness about domestic violence. She’s interned with the Domestic Violence Youth Network and the Center for Victim and Human Rights (CVHR), and a teen dating violence policy she worked on will be implemented at Indianapolis Public Schools this fall.

These leadership efforts helped her earn the competitive Lilly Endowment Scholarship, which offers four-year, full-tuition scholarships to select Indiana students in all 92 counties. Candidates for the prestigious award must display “notable abilities, leadership skills, and civic potential through community service, exemplary school citizenship, and outstanding academic performance.” Maria is one of 20 Lilly Scholars in Butler’s incoming class this year.

Maria will continue her advocacy efforts at Butler, where she plans to double major in Peace and Conflict Studies and Political Science. She’s already lined up a gig on campus as an assistant in the Office of Health Education and Outreach Programs.

Butler’s Associate Director of Health Education and Outreach Programs Sarah Diaz believes Maria will be an excellent fit for their office.

 “She is coming in with this very solid foundation of knowledge around sexual violence, also some knowledge of the resources within our community because she done work with them, and she has had the experience of being a peer educator,” Diaz said. “She’s  the whole package of what our office does.”

Whole package, indeed.

Maria De Leon
Welcome WeekStudent LifePeople

Meet the Class of 2022: Maria De Leon

Incoming first-year student Maria De Leon is leading her family in a number of firsts.  

Meet the Class of 2022: Jack Kane

Jack Kane
Major: Accounting
Hometown: Arlington Heights, Illinois
High School: Rolling Meadows High School

 

"I'm looking forward to meeting new people and the new experiences, and all of the fun that comes with college and everything." 
 


 

Racing remote-controlled model airplanes has been part of Jack Kane's life for longer than he can remember. He was 2 months old the first time he attended a competition, and the hobby has taken him around the country (California, Colorado, Arizona, Florida) and the world (Australia, the Netherlands, England, Switzerland).

And now, it’s a hobby he hopes to continue in Indianapolis. Jack will be one of 1,357 first-year students in Butler’s Class of 2022, the University’s largest class ever.

"My dad's dad started doing this in the '60s and '70s," Jack said. "My grandpa was obsessed with it. Then my dad followed in his footsteps to be closer to his dad, and I followed to be closer to my dad too."

Jack and his dad fly Formula 1 and Quickee planes that are about 3 or 4 feet long and have a wingspan of roughly 6 feet. In competitions, they race against three other flyers at a time on a mile-long course. The first one to navigate around three pylons and get back quickest wins.

Winners take home trophies—there's no prize money—and in the past five years, since Jack's been an active participant with his dad, they've won about 20.

Jack said competitions are meant "to just enjoy yourself and have fun with your friends."

"But it's an adrenaline rush," he said. "These planes are going about 200 miles an hour around a mile course. It gets your heart pumping a little bit."

Jack said the biggest competition is held annually in Muncie, Indiana—and that, in part, is how he ended up applying to  Butler University. He would see Butler billboards on I-465 heading toward I-69 to Muncie, and that piqued his interest enough to investigate further. He liked what he found.

Like Jack, more than 25 percent  of this year’s class hails from Illinois. As an incoming Accounting major, he’ll be among the first Lacy School of Business students to enjoy the college’s new building. Set to open in August 2019, the new business facilities will feature a trading room, food service, and a rooftop deck.

When he's at Butler, Jack plans to try to continue racing planes.

"But," he said, "I'm putting school first."

Jack Kane
Welcome WeekStudent LifePeople

Meet the Class of 2022: Jack Kane

An native of Illinois, Jack has traveled the world racing remote-controlled airplanes.

Meet the Class of 2022: Kate Callihan

Kate Callihan
Major: Sports Media
Hometown: Austin, Texas
High School: Westlake High School

 

"I am most excited about the growing Sports Media program. It offers so many opportunities here and around Indy, and the professors show so much interest in the students already and classes haven't even started yet. Working with people who are likeminded and driven is going to be just incredible."
 


 

Like many high schoolers, Kate Callihan and her classmates studied the Vietnam war during their junior year.They read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, heard from veterans who visited their class, and, as a final assignment, researched an American soldier who died in, or as a result of, the war.

Unlike many high schoolers, though, Kate took this assignment to the next level–and discovered a passion for storytelling in the process.

The name Kate was assigned was Michael Meyhoff. Rather than do some cursory research, she tracked down his family in North Dakota and made a 20-minute documentary using home movies, photos, and recollections of family and friends.

"I absolutely loved every second of it," she said.

Kate said she'd always loved writing, but it wasn’t until this project that she realized how much she loved storytelling. She narrated the video, "and at the beginning you can hear how timid I was and by the end of it I really found my voice and confidence."

"I realized that by telling this story I was not only impacting my grade and my own agenda, but there was a whole community that benefited from it and it was an absolutely incredible experience," she said.

Kate's English teacher, Dr. James Moore, wrote this about her effort: "The work you put in with calls, interviews, and emails eclipsed that of your classmates tenfold at least. I can tell that you really delved into the material, too, mining it for any little detail that would help fill out your story. "

Kate will continue honing her storytelling craft as a Sports Media major at Butler this fall. She will be one of 1,357 first-year students in Butler’s Class of 2022, the University’s largest class ever.

Butler’s Sports Media program drew her to Indianapolis–and it’s drawn others, too. Since 2017, the number of first-year students enrolling in Sports Media has more than doubled. The program, an integration of Sports Journalism and Digital Sports Production, is the only degreed program of its kind in Indiana, and one of only a handful of degreed programs in the Midwest.

In addition to studying Sports Media at Butler, Kate plans to double minor in Marketing and Theology, with a focus on Monotheism and Biblical Studies. She hopes one day to combine her interests in sports media and theology to bring teams to third-world countries to teach the children there how to play sports.

But that's the future. For now, she said, "I feel blessed to be part of the young Sports Media program and blessed to be part of Butler."

Kate Callihan
Welcome WeekStudent LifePeople

Meet the Class of 2022: Kate Callihan

Butler's Sports Media program drew Kate to Indiana from Texas.

Meet the Class of 2022: Ben Varner

Ben Varner
Major: Engineering Dual Degree Program
Hometown: Metamora, Michigan
High School: Oxford High School

"What I'm looking forward to the most in my time at Butler is meeting new people and getting the opportunity to live and hopefuly, work in Indianapolis."

 


 

Ben Varner's dad took him to a local go-kart track when he was 7. That started his competitive fires.

And he’s counting on Butler University to keep them going.

For the past 11 years, Ben has been competing in go-kart racing—and winning. He has more than 60 career wins and a list of achievements that include: 2011 Great Lakes Sprint Series Season Champion; 2016 East Lansing Kart Track Season Champion; 5th Place US Pro Kart Series Season Championship; and WKA Manufacturers cup win.

In 2017, after 10 years of go-kart racing, Ben got enough funding to take a step up into Formula cars. The next step, he hopes, will be IndyCar. His dream is to win the Indianapolis 500.

Achieving that dream, though, requires finding financing, he said. In the complicated and expensive world of auto racing, it can take mid-six-figure investments just to get started.

"You could be the best driver in the country and not have any financial backing and you wouldn't be able to get anywhere," he said.

So while he works toward that, Ben also has a backup plan: He wants to be an IndyCar engineer. To achieve that goal, he chose Butler's Engineering Dual Degree Program (EDDP), figuring that attending school within seven miles of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a smart strategy.

“We were at the Indy 500 a few years ago, and my dad told me about Butler,” he said. “We went and visited during the 500 weekend. I really liked the campus, and we talked to Jessica McCormick (Academic Program Coordinator) about the engineering program. I knew it would be a really good fit.”

Butler’s 5-year Engineering Dual Degree Program integrates curriculum from Butler University and Purdue University. Students enroll at both universities, and courses are taught on Butler’s campus during the first three years. In the final two years, courses are held at Butler and at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Ben will be one of 1,357 first-year students in Butler’s Class of 2022, the University’s largest class ever. As a Michigander, he’ll be in good company on campus–76 other new Bulldogs are also from the state. Since 2015, applications for admission by Michigan high schoolers have increased by more than 80 percent.

Last May, Varner shadowed the engineers at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and he hopes to work with them again.

While he's looking forward to starting his college career, he also appreciates what he's achieved so far.

"It's been a ride, that's for sure," he said.

Ben Varner
Welcome WeekStudent LifePeople

Meet the Class of 2022: Ben Varner

 Originally from Michigan, Ben is a competitive Forumal car racer who is majoring in Engineering.

Abiodun
Welcome WeekPeopleCampus

From Nigeria to Butler, First Year Up to the Challenge

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Aug 20 2018

INDIANAPOLIS— It started as a friendly wager.

Teacher to pupil. Apply to as many colleges as possible, with the goal of earning at least $1 million in scholarship offers. But the accounts differ, a bit. According to teacher, it was a way for pupil to ‘explore his options.’ According to pupil, it was a way to get ‘$200 to take his girlfriend on a date to Buffalo Wild Wings.’ That’s a lot of wings.

Either way, pupil won the bet. Or, teacher won the bet. Well, those accounts differ, too, depending on who you ask.

Abiodun Akinseye applied to 32 colleges. He finished 28 applications. He was accepted into 30 colleges. Wait, what? Yes, two schools accepted him without a complete application. He has a heaping pile of acceptance letters to prove it, along with the multiple days it took to clean out the 2,000-plus emails he accumulated from different schools. There was Union College, Samford, Wittenberg, Central State, it’s hard for him to remember them all, but most states in the U.S. were covered. At the end of it all, Abiodun had more than $1 million in scholarship offers. And $200 from his teacher.

Genevieve McLeish-Petty wanted Abiodun to push himself. To explore his options. In her 17 years of teaching, she never came across a student quite like Abiodun. She knew the Northwest High School valedictorian was capable of getting into several colleges, but she wanted him to know it, too. So, she threw in a $200 motivator – earn the most scholarship money in the school and get $200. Next thing she knew, it seemed like Abiodun was coming up to her every day with another acceptance letter. And more scholarship money.

In the end, Abiodun chose Butler University. A campus he first stepped foot onto as a 10th grader, he was drawn to Butler’s location, size, Honors Program, and liberal arts education. But most of all, he was drawn to Butler because he knew it would challenge him. And though he made the college application process look easy, his road from Nigeria to Indianapolis was anything but.

“There’s definitely a reason I keep all of those acceptance letters at home in a big box,” says Abiodun, as he scrolls through pictures on his phone until he gets to the one he is looking for – a picture of all the acceptance letters and envelopes piled high. “I want to keep them to show how far I have come and how hard I have worked to get to where I am. I went from Nigeria, and tough, tough times, to graduating at the top of my class, and now really a dream at Butler. So, it has been good, but challenging, and now I want another challenge.”

I went from Nigeria, and tough, tough times, to graduating at the top of my class, and now really a dream at Butler.

From Nigeria to the U.S.

Abiodun grew up in Nigeria until he was five. He remembers it well. But he also vividly remembers why his family fled for America.

There was family tragedy. His aunt tried to kill him and his two brothers, so his mother and father moved the family to America. Abiodun still has nightmares about the pain he felt from being poisoned. He felt like he was on fire. About his mom crying next to him when he was laying in the hospital bed.

He also felt guilty for a long time. He was in charge of watching his younger brother when the hitman came and hit his brother with a motorcycle. He blamed himself.

They settled in Indianapolis in 2005. Abiodun remembers the cereal Corn Flakes and wondering what it was. He remembers the music. He definitely didn’t understand the music. The first song he heard was Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and he wasn’t a fan of all the heavy bass. He taught himself English by watching "Sesame Street" daily. His favorite character was Cookie Monster, he could relate to his appetite. Then there was the snow. His family had no idea what the white stuff falling from the sky was. His mom warned him not to touch it. He still prefers summer to winter.

“What’s crazy is I never expected life to be harder in America than in Nigeria,” Abiodun says. “When I came here, things got worse.”

Abiodun was bullied in school. Classmates called him an “African booty scratcher.” They threw paper balls at him, made him feel ashamed of being Nigerian, and made fun of his accent. They asked him if he was related to monkeys, if turning the lights off would make his skin disappear, and if he knew what deodorant was.

He told his mom about the bullying, so he changed schools. But the bullying continued.

“The bullying caused me to be depressed and for years I really didn’t know how to deal with my emotions or my feelings,” he says. “It’s still hard, because the depression turned into anxiety,  and it was all tough.”

The adjustment has been difficult, he says. His family lives in Speedway. His mom and dad are both nurses. He has an older brother and three younger brothers. And quickly, Abiodun realized, academics and art were his refuge.

 

His Escape

Abiodun’s mother told him when he was young that education would be his escape. He says that always stuck with him.

So, when the bullying persisted, and he was down, he would focus on his studies, he says. Education runs in his family. His mom got her Master’s Degree a few years after they moved to the U.S. His dad has his Bachelor’s Degree from Nigeria. His grandmother’s sister has a doctorate in education. His favorite aunt got her Bachelor’s Degree a few years ago in the U.S.

His best friends growing up?

“The characters in books,” Abiodun says. “I spent all my time reading and studying. I would read the dictionary to grow my vocabulary. I love fiction with elements of reality because those books give me the ability to jump from the real world, but not take the full leap to the stars.”

He loves “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” and the Percy Jackson series. Usually, if he’s into a book, he will finish it in a few hours.

Drawing runs in his family, too. And it is something that has always helped him with his depression, he says. He started drawing when he was four. His dad taught him how when they lived in Nigeria.

Now, he fills up sketchpad after sketchpad. He makes sure to draw in pen, as opposed to pencil, to avoid overthinking. Pencil, he says, gives him the option to erase.

“Drawing helps me control my emotions,” he says. “It helps me take what is in my head, what is bothering me or what I am thinking about, and get it out and put it on paper in a creative form.”

 

The Last Valedictorian

McLeish-Petty knew about Abiodun before he ever enrolled in her sophomore honors English class at Northwest High School.

She ran the honors program at the school, so she had a whole lot of practice typing out his name. He broke test-score records, was known for his creativity, and of course, for how bright he was. At first, Abiodun was quiet, but as he became more comfortable, he started to challenge the class.

“We read some difficult literature and Abiodun was able to facilitate conversations when I couldn’t get the rest of the class on board,” she says. “He would stir up conversations by playing devil’s advocate, he would make everyone think in different ways. His fascination with certain topics were lightyears ahead of what a high school kid typically thinks about.”

Most students, McLeish-Petty says, just want an answer so they can put it down. Abiodun wanted to know why; he wanted to know what was the point. He was very refreshing, she says.

Then there was the time she tricked Abiodun into joining the drama club when he was a sophomore. It started as him working behind the scenes. She convinced him to design the sets for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Because he is so smart, after a couple days, he knew everyone’s lines and where everyone should be,” McLeish-Petty says. “By the time the show opened, we had some people quit and Abiodun filled in as Grandma Josephine and doubled as an oompa loompa.”

By the time he was a senior, he was the lead in the school play.

Abiodun would end up with a 4.1 GPA. He would deliver the school’s final valedictorian address – the building will shift to a middle school in the fall. He would discuss religion and politics with McLeish-Petty for hours. He won $12,000 when he wrote a two-page essay about his life for a Kiwanis Club scholarship that honors local high schoolers for their resilience.

It wasn’t just teacher helping pupil. Abiodun forever changed McLeish-Petty.

A high school teacher for 17 years, Abiodun got her thinking. If she had been in his life earlier, around the time he started being bullied, she could have tried to make it better much sooner. How many young people are there out there who just need someone to talk to, she started to wonder.

For the first time in 17 years, McLeish-Petty won’t be teaching high school this school year. She will be teaching at Coldspring Elementary School. Something Abiodun inspired.

“Every once in awhile you have a student come through who you know will be in your life way past graduation,” she says. “Abiodun is one of those people. He’s not just smart. He’s self-aware, he wants to have an impact, he will befriend the kid that is sitting alone. I am positive I will still be talking to Abiodun in 15 years.”

 

Change-Maker

It’s a few days before the start of his first year, and Abiodun is walking around Butler’s campus.

He says he feels excited about the start of classes, but definitely a bit anxious. He’ll be taking Spanish – his fourth language (he already speaks English, French, and Yoruba), Calculus, Honors First Year Seminar, and Introduction to Art.

Abiodun plans on majoring in Psychology and minoring in Art and English. He hopes to write a book, and also help others who are going through depression. He’s interested in child psychology, and also art therapy.

“Maybe I will be able to make a change and help,” he says. “I definitely want to write my own book when I’m done with college.”

But that is down the line. For now, he wonders if he will play intramural soccer, maybe join student government, maybe get involved in a video game club. He’s excited for the food on campus. He hopes to make some friends.

He remembers back when he was in 10th grade and came to Butler’s campus for the first time on a school trip.

“I wasn’t that impressed,” he says. “But that’s because I was a judgmental teenager. As I saw more and more schools, I realized how big they were, and crowded, and confusing, and I realized how much I liked Butler. It was a perfect size.”

Here he is, 30 acceptances later. There may be differing accounts about why Abiodun applied to so many schools. But, one thing is clear: he’s up to whatever challenges are ahead.

 

Media contact:
Rachel Stern
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656

Abiodun
Welcome WeekPeopleCampus

From Nigeria to Butler, First Year Up to the Challenge

30 acceptances later, Abiodun plans a psych major to help others.

Aug 20 2018 Read more