Olumide Onanuga on Adapting to Change, Risk-Taking, and Teamwork

By University Staff

olumide onanuga ashford commencement speaker

Olumide Onanuga is a NASA human resources advisor and a veteran U.S. Marine who obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Ashford University (now the University of Arizona Global Campus). During the Fall 2019 commencement, he’ll be taking to the podium as alumni speaker to share his insight on adapting to drastic changes in location, lifestyle, and career. 

In anticipation of his speech on October 13, we recently spoke with Olumide regarding a number of topics, from his ability to stay focused to staying positive no matter what life throws his way.

Read on to learn more about how this Ashford alum is tackling challenges and reaching his personal and professional goals.

Ashford (UAGC): Was there a transition in your life that was particularly challenging or scary? How did you manage to accept and adapt to it in a positive way? 

Olumide: The biggest challenge was when I transitioned out of the military and moved from my home state of Texas to Washington D.C., where we had absolutely no family. In the military, everything is so structured and answered for you. My Master Gunnery Sergeant Kenneth Bowens always said, “What is your plan of actions and milestones?” You write yourself a “POA&M” when you’re about to take on things that you might be a little uncomfortable with, especially things that can incur failure. The civilian world doesn’t see that everything can be mapped out with a plan. I followed that advice as best as I could. 

UAGC: You’ve written about controlled risks as they relate to time management and pursuing goals or passions. Can you elaborate on how controlled risks differ from leaps of faith?

Olumide: I left the military with a high school education and realized I needed to go to college. Not only did I go to college, but my wife did, too. We both recognized the elephant in the room, and we took that controlled risk in making a plan. A leap of faith was moving to Washington D.C. with no job. My wife accepted a position at NASA before I even thought about moving. I didn’t want to be separated from her, so I packed up the house and headed out. I was still in class at the time and paired my smart phone to my laptop so I could write papers on the road. I was writing papers in the moving van! I didn’t know what was going to come of it!

UAGC: What gave you the confidence to make that leap of faith?

Olumide: I trusted in myself. Plus, I had people around me saying, ‘You’re going to accomplish anything you put your mind to.’ It is good to hear that validation from somebody; those words have power. When one person validates somebody else, that’s how power is created.

UAGC: You’ve spent a great deal of time working in team-oriented environments. Do you have any advice on how to best work with others?

Olumide: I love working in a team setting because seeing someone else succeed is my success. I remember an old colleague telling me, ‘Speak in a way where people want to listen to you, and listen in a way where people want to speak to you.’ It’s helpful to know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and to give them an opportunity to do something they’re good at. It’s about being positively motivated.

UAGC: Is there any motto or mantra you live by, and if so, how does this mindset help you stay focused or motivated?

Olumide: Written on a little white board in my office, I have the Marine’s mantra: Saepius Exertus, Semper Fidelis, Spiritus Invictus. That means: often tested, always faithful, and unconquerable spirit. You always want to be faithful with the people you lead, and they’ll be faithful to you. With challenges in life or in your profession, you’re going to be tested often. As for unconquerable spirit, you want every step you take to crack the sidewalk. If you’re going into something with that mindset, everyone is going to feel it, and they’re going to jump onto that feeling too.

UAGC: How does this mantra manifest in your current role at NASA?

Olumide: Anyone that’s new to Greenbelt comes to see me first, and I am the first person to onboard them. It’s a big responsibility. A colleague of mine once told me, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do or what you say. What’s truly important is how you make somebody feel.’ It’s about how you show up.


Written by University Staff

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