Oluseun Idowu leads the student chapter of Phi Kappa Phi

Phi Kappa Phi Guy

Graduate student takes national leadership position in honor society


For a graduate student raising a family, 40 bucks is a lot of money.

So you can forgive Oluseun “Shawn” Idowu for initially balking at the idea of paying the $40 fee to join an honor society. What would being a member of Phi Kappa Phi do for him, anyway?

As it turned out, quite a bit – for Idowu, for Phi Kappa Phi, and for the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Phi Kappa Phi claims to be the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective collegiate honor society for all disciplines, and has more than 300 chapters across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Students, alumni, faculty and staff and members of the community are all eligible to be invited to join, but for many years, the student organization of the UMKC chapter of Phi Kappa Phi was largely inactive.

Since his induction as a student member in 2009, Idowu has reinvigorated student involvement in the chapter and become a national-level force in the organization.

All because Charles Wurrey, Olson Professor of Chemistry and president of the local chapter, convinced Idowu to fork over the $40.

Since then, Idowu was named vice president of the chapter, and then selected as one of 10 students from across the country to serve on PKP’s national Student Council; the chapter earned Chapter of Merit and Chapter of Excellence honors. Finally, at the recent biennial Phi Kappa Phi national convention in St. Louis, he was selected to be one of two student members on the national Phi Kappa Phi Board of Directors.

He’s come a long way from his home town of Lagos, Nigeria. Idowu’s academic journey began at the University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, Nigeria. After earning a degree there, he earned a United Nations fellowship to enroll in graduate school at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Attracted by UMKC’s reputation for excellence in interdisciplinary programs, he enrolled in a doctoral program in Geosciences and Statistics, to pursue his research interest in global climate change.

In his first academic year at UMKC, he posted a 4.0 GPA. That earned the invite from PKP. He hesitated. Wurrey explained the benefits membership could have for his academic career – the opportunity to go to conferences and meetings, meet influential people, and do good works in the community.

“I saw a lot of prospects, a lot of opportunity, in Phi Kappa Phi, so I decided to accept [the invitation,]” Idowu said. “It was a chance to get to know people who are the brightest of the bright, and who are willing to give back to society.”

Juniors, seniors, graduate and professional students are eligible for invitation if they meet Phi Kappa Phi academic requirements. Juniors must have completed 72 credit hours and rank in the top 7.5 percent of their class; seniors, graduate and professional students must rank in the top 10 percent of their class.

Idowu applied for, and won, a $500 Love of Learning grant from the organization in 2010. The real value of his PKP membership was more significant than the money, however.

“It helped me to become more comfortable as a student in America, after spending my life in Africa,” he said. “As a board member, I received leadership training, which will be a great help to my career.”

Wurrey said Idowu has given as much as he has received.

“He really wanted to get the student organization up and running (at UMKC). It had been a while since it had been very active,” Wurrey said. “He was primarily responsible for getting the infrastructure in place. Now, there are at least 50 student members and it continues to grow as word gets around.”

Now, the student PKP organization at UMKC is sponsoring a lecture series on “Leadership in the 21st Century” as well as a variety of social events. Plans for community service projects focused on adult literacy and student peer mentoring are also being put together.

“It’s taking root and good things are happening,” Wurrey said.  

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“It helped me to become more comfortable as a student in America, after spending my life in Africa.”

Oluseun Idowu
Interdisciplinary doctoral program in Geosciences and Statistics