A University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty member who challenges students to think globally and a Lincoln community leader who works tirelessly to improve the lives of others are the 2018 Chancellor’s Fulfilling the Dream Award recipients.
J. Kalu Osiri, director of international business and associate professor of practice in management at Nebraska, and Eric Buchanan, director of strategic partnerships for the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, will be presented the awards during the MLK Week keynote address, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 17 in the Nebraska Union Auditorium. The annual awards are given to individuals or groups who have contributed to the university or Lincoln by their exemplary action in promoting the goals and vision of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
About the honorees:
J. Kalu Osiri
Osiri’s international education began at an early age.
Born in Benin to Nigerian parents, he grew up speaking Igbo, Fon, English and French in a multicultural, multi-religious society.
He moved to Nigeria to finish secondary school and some additional studies. He then came to the United States, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in analytical chemistry from Grambling State University in 2005 and a doctorate in bioanalytical chemistry from Louisiana State University in 2009.
Osiri started his career at Washington State University, working first as a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering and then as assistant clinical professor in entrepreneurship and international business.
His doctoral research involved developing tools for disease diagnostics, but he soon became interested in how to commercialize science, which brought him to business. He completed a post-doctoral program in international business and entrepreneurship from the University of Florida in 2010.
Osiri joined the Nebraska College of Business faculty in fall 2015. He teaches classes in international business, entrepreneurship and leadership.
His current research focuses on what he calls the “chemistry of leadership” — the physiological effects that leaders have on people.
At Nebraska, Osiri has led study abroad trips to Uganda, France, Spain, Guyana and Panama. Over winter break, he and colleague Elina Ibrayeva took a group of 19 students to Panama to present business and marketing plans that they had developed in class to a teak plantation.
“The (owner), who has been in the business for over 40 years, … said he learned so much about teak and the global market from our students in their presentation,” Osiri said. “It was really a successful program, and I was very proud of our students’ performance. Students learn about international business consulting in these kinds of programs.”
Osiri plans to return to Panama next winter break with a new project that he believes will help Nebraska. Students will research alternative uses of, and international markets for, Nebraska corn and other agricultural products. They will then travel to Panama to explore how to export the products via the Panama Canal.
This spring break, he is taking a group of students to West Africa. Engineering students are designing a solar-powered center pivot for irrigation, and business students are proposing a plan for technology-based farming in Togo and Benin.
In an increasingly interconnected world, Osiri said it’s important for students to learn to lead effectively across cultures. He said studying in another country is a great way to develop empathy and understanding of others.
“When students travel, they also grow as human beings,” he said. “They learn about themselves.”
Meghan Matt, a sophomore international business student who nominated Osiri for the award, participated in the recent Panama trip. She said the class was unlike anything she had taken.
“Dr. Osiri encourages trial-and-error learning centered on experience and growth rather than points and a letter grade,” she wrote. “This unique focus and mindset allow for personal and academic achievement that I have not experienced in the classroom before his class.”
Matt also credited Osiri for encouraging her to join the International Business Distinguished Scholars and Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience programs at Nebraska.
“The fact that I can be part of a student’s journey of personal growth, whether that’s in the classroom here for a full semester or that’s abroad, and just kind of seeing them blossom, is extremely rewarding and exciting,” Osiri said.
In his role with the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Buchanan works to attract new investors and partners and grow existing relationships. He also makes grant and funding recommendations and helps set the strategic direction for the national network of Educare centers.
The Omaha-based nonprofit aims to create positive experiences for all children during the critical first five years of life.
Buchanan said the most rewarding part of his job is helping children and families, especially those who are economically disadvantaged.
“The research clearly indicates … that children who have access to high-quality early care and education experiences come to school ready to learn on par with their more-resourced peers and have more positive and beneficial life outcomes,” he said.
To this end, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund has directed significant funding to initiatives at Nebraska, including Math Early On, a project in the College of Education and Human Sciences that gives educators tools to foster math learning in 3- and 4-year-olds.
“Eric is well respected across the country for his approach and ingenuity in tackling perennial problems in early childhood development and education and is dedicated to improving outcomes for young children from diverse backgrounds,” Liz Lange, national recognition and awards coordinator at Nebraska, wrote in her nomination letter.
Before joining the Buffett Fund in 2013, Buchanan spent 16 years working for the University of Nebraska Foundation, advancing to assistant vice president and director of corporate and foundation relations. He partnered with many units and departments across the University of Nebraska system and raised millions of dollars for the university.
“Over the years, Eric became well known among faculty and administrators for his thoughtful approach to fundraising and his ability to connect projects with funders across disciplines,” wrote Lange, who worked with Buchanan at the foundation.
Buchanan was involved in the planning and development of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and was on the search committee for its founding director, Samuel Meisels.
He also worked closely with Amber Williams to acquire initial funding for the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy, which prepares first-generation and low-income students from Omaha North Magnet, Omaha South Magnet and Grand Island Senior high schools for personal and academic success.
A native of Overland Park, Kansas, Buchanan played defensive end for the Husker football team in the early 1980s. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Nebraska in 1997.
Buchanan has served on the boards of the Clyde Malone Community Center and Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, and is currently a member of the Early Childhood Work Group of Prosper Lincoln, the Community Health Endowment Board of Trustees and the Trust for Learning Board of Advisors. He is also an Educare Omaha board member and is on the advisory committees for Educare centers in Atlanta, Kansas City and New Orleans.
But perhaps his most important role is that of father to sons Jack, 18, and Davis, 15 — a job that has taken on greater importance since his wife, Nikki, died due to pancreatic cancer in 2015.
“This is no easy task for any parent, and Eric has taken on this role with even greater strength and resilience as he and his boys continue to thrive in the absence of their wife and mother’s warmth and energy,” Lange wrote.
Buchanan is quick to point out that he hasn’t done it alone, saying he has received a lot of help from his mother-in-law, Lonnie Fuerniss.
A testament to the family’s perseverance, Jack Buchanan was recently featured in the Lincoln Journal Star as an outstanding football player and high-achieving student at Lincoln High School.
Jack is a senior who plans to attend Nebraska in the fall. Davis is a sophomore at Lincoln High.