OSU track athlete pushes for inclusion in scientific field work
Monday, February 22, 2021
Being an NCAA Division 1 track athlete and maintaining a near-perfect GPA while majoring in environmental science and minoring in chemistry and geology is a tall order, but Oklahoma State University Honors College senior Josh Anadu manages it.
When he’s not on the track or in the lab, he’s promoting science literacy as well as inclusivity in field research and outdoor recreational activities. He creates accessible models to help people better understand climate change, has a Youtube channel dedicated to science education and is a sought-after speaker.
In 2020, he co-published an article about his own experiences dealing with racial discrimination from strangers while working an out-of-state field site. It caught the attention of university leaders across the country, and he continues to shed light on how barriers to inclusivity hamper educational opportunities for people of color.
"I knew these experiences were real for people of color working in the field,” he said. “Genuinely, the number of people who told me that it resonated with them or that they enjoyed it shocked me. It was tough to hear, but I was also happy that things are being done so this happens to fewer people in the future. All I really want is for people to have an equal opportunity to do what they want to do in life.”
Following the story’s publication, he received emails from professors across the nation and even outside the United States, saying they are incorporating the practices advocated in the article. OSU Honors College Dean Dr. Keith Garbutt said Anadu’s work inspired the creation of a new symposium.
“Josh exemplifies the best characteristics of an honors student,” Garbutt said. “Not only has he been extremely successful in his scholarship, winning a Goldwater scholarship, but he has also emerged as a leader in a particularly challenging time. It was his forthright comments during an Honors town hall that led us to develop a new program of symposiums for honors students this year. When I initially met Josh during his freshman year, it was clear by the end of the first semester that he had significant potential. Now as he graduates, he has more than met that potential, becoming one of our most successful students."
Honors College academic advisor Baylee Butler describes Josh as humble and unassuming but said there’s nothing small about the work he’s doing — and that’s worth recognizing.
“I think it’s great that we honor people like Nancy Randolph Davis and other prominent Black figures who have made their mark, but we also have students like Josh who are doing amazing things right now,” she said. “Those notable students who came before him paved the way for Josh. But he’s now part of their story, too, because his success wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
Jessica Sullins, director of the Henry Bellmon Office of Scholar Development and Undergraduate Research, said it’s important to recognize up-and-coming Black leaders in the present to both celebrate individual achievements and promote spaces for future Black leaders.
“We should all serve as advocates for inclusivity and institutional equity,” she said. “Josh’s accomplishments as a STEM student, his engagement in extensive undergraduate research, his participation in a research program with the National Science Foundation, and his recognition as a 2020 Goldwater Scholar are well-deserved accolades for top undergraduates across the country. For Josh, however, it was not enough.
“In the wake of national movements for racial justice, he seized the opportunity to highlight the importance of the STEM community’s involvement in addressing systemic racism. He introduced the #STEMforBLM donation campaign and provided a resource list to the OSU administration, calling for a commitment to racial justice from the campus community. His motivation to use his success as a scholar to advocate for more inclusive communities and diversity in academia should make OSU proud to call him an alumnus.”
A Senior of Significance and 2020 Goldwater Scholar, Anadu plans to pursue a Ph.D. and has been accepted by every program where he’s applied. He aims to study the origin of microbial terrestrial life and the search for life on other planets. Despite the workload, he insists he’ll still find time to promote science literacy and equality and inclusion in field work. Empathy, he said, is his driving force.
“It’s really easy to overvalue everything in your own life and undervalue other people’s lives,” he said. “For me, the impact of doing these things could have a great impact on other people’s lives, and that’s worth far more than any one weekend activity I may want to do.”
He credits his parents and cultural background with his tireless work ethic. They left established professional careers in Nigeria to come to the U.S. when he was a child for better educational opportunities for their children. His father worked overnight shifts at Home Depot, while his mother took a job at a trucking company. Anadu said his parents could have had much easier lives, but they made those sacrifices for a reason, and that’s something he’ll never take for granted.
“I don’t think I’m a particularly smart person, but I have a good motor,” he said. “It’s something imparted from my parents and Nigerian culture — the drive to keep pushing. I just try to do as much as I can.
“Life really is short, and I just try to make the most of it and the opportunities that I get. I’m very thankful for where I am. It’s hard work, but I enjoy doing this. I enjoy learning … I could be digging ditches, and that’s a harder job.”
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