Motivating Monday: Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, An Advocate for Education

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

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Story provided by Kathy Jessup

As Kalamazoo College president, Dr. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran focuses on providing a challenging academic atmosphere for young people readying themselves to embark on an adult learning odyssey.

As a local United Way leader, she’s targeted her academic passion at another point in learning: early childhood education.

Wilson-Oyelaran, 64, credits the United Way with providing a framework to support Kalamazoo County’s commitment to having four-year-olds begin school ready to learn. United Way offered office space and a coordinating staff person to nurture the Kalamazoo County Task Force on Early Childhood Education’s “kernel of an idea” into a countywide commitment to enrolling kindergarteners prepared to succeed.

“We would not be where we are today with Kalamazoo County Ready 4s without the strong support of the United Way,” Wilson-Oyelaran declares.

The United Way board member says her involvement challenges her as an educator and an activist, while opening a window for her to the Kalamazoo community.

“It’s an opportunity for me to understand the needs of the community and perhaps for me to contribute a little bit to helping solve some of the community’s most pressing problems,” Wilson-Oyelaran said. “United Way has been very intentional about the areas on which it wants to focus, including ones that hold real passion for me: opportunities for children, for families and for the eradication of poverty. So for me, there’s no question that when I have discretionary time, the United Way is a good place to spend it.”

Wilson-Oyelaran focused on the benefits of early childhood education long before she came to Kalamazoo in 2005. She studied immigrant child education in England and conducted independent research in Africa on her way to a Ph.D. in early childhood development.

When the K-College president rubs shoulders professionally with some of the area’s top philanthropists, she has a ready reply for why United Way is a wise investment for their charitable dollars.

“Impact.  Creativity.  Rapid response to challenges.  There is strong leadership in the organization, and a board and staff that are deeply invested in the work.”