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Alumni Q&A: Festus Obiakor

Festus Obiakor, M.Ed. ’81

Festus Obiakor, Ph.D., earned his Master of Education in Special Education from TCU in 1981 and has served as a teacher, scholar and consultant. He has written more than 150 publications, including books and journal articles and presented at many international conferences.

What was it like when you first came to TCU?

“I came from Nigeria to TCU; and as I was told, I may be the first African American to get a master’s in special education at TCU. It was a wonderful experience and I didn’t really know I was coming to the United States to attend one of the best colleges in the world. The professors were great.

One of the things I saw – the advertisement I saw in Nigeria about TCU had some black people and I kept looking for them when I arrived on campus but I didn’t see any. When I looked around and saw no black people were around, it pushed me to the next level. It was a challenge, but I hung in there because I wanted to make a name for myself and I hope I’ve made TCU proud. It was a beacon of hope for me.”

Why did you want to study special education and earn your master’s degree at TCU?

“I liked the tone of TCU’s letter because I’m a writer. I tell stories in my work, using case studies and personal narratives. Special education was a new field and you had very few minorities in it. Most of the people who were learning special education in Nigeria were going to London. I was looking for an environment that was like home, and God gave me that. TCU laid a good foundation for me and gave me all kinds of wonderful opportunities.”

You then went on to earn another master’s degree and your doctorate at the same time, can you talk about that?

“Again, as I was told, I was the first black person to get a Ph.D. in special education at New Mexico State University. I was introduced to psychology through a course at TCU and I was taking psychology classes for fun at NMSU but was making very good grades. The professor said I should get my master’s degree in psychology too. I noted that my advisor would be mad and they said your advisor doesn’t have to know, so I kept taking classes. In the end my advisor was impressed.

My doctoral research focused on self-concepts of students with visual impairments at schools for the blind and other places. I wanted to see self-concept as something that was multidimensional, because one’s self-concept at home may be different than self-concept in school. I decided to replicate my studies with African American learners and other culturally diverse learners.”

After earning your degrees, can you talk about how your career progressed?

“I wrote my first book at Rust College. Later I founded an internationally referreed journal, Multicultural Learning and Teaching. I continued my research on African American learners and self-concept and became a full professor by 1996. All of my experiences have informed my teaching, scholarship and service. I have served as program coordinator, department head or chair at various institutions. It’s been a wonderful ride that started at TCU.”

What advice do you have for aspiring special educators?

From his interview while serving as Department Head, Early Childhood and Special Education at Valdosta State University. Watch the clip below.

“An effective special educator has to be a good human being first … If you don’t value yourself as a human being, I wonder how you can value other people — especially those who are disenfranchised, who are disadvantaged, who have disabilities.”