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Nelson Ogbuagu

I sit in the Grill anxiously awaiting this week’s campus celebrity, third-year Economics major Nelson Ogbuagu. Although we are currently in the same Econometrics section, we haven’t spoken since first year, when I would somewhat regularly approach him at Gardner and demand he teach me his dance moves.

Ogbuagu was just elected to his second term as Clangrala Senator, and has hopefully long forgotten these encounters. When he arrives, I ask him to describe his interpretation of the Senator role at Grinnell.

“It’s primarily to serve as voice for my cluster on SGA cabinet,” Ogbuagu explains. “We vote on different things, usually budgets for various events, student clubs and organizations.”  However, Ogbuagu feels that one of the biggest problems between SGA and the student body is a lack of understanding about what types of resources SGA can provide. As a result, students rarely utilize SGA to its fullest potential. This semester, Ogbuagu, along with co-senator Ariel Keller ‘17, plan on putting on a series of events with comprehensive trivia detailing SGA’s capabilities.

“I really want to focus on opening up communication between senators, SGA, and the student body,” Ogbuagu explains. “SGA can do everything from funding various parties or events that you have in mind, to helping club organizations get funding for trips or conferences, or equipment to make your club more productive. There’s a multitude of possibilities, and it’s all about transparency.”

Ogbuagu’s focus last semester was highlighting different internship opportunities for non-technical majors. With the help of the CLS, Ogbuagu put on on a student panel consisting of Grinnell students who interned at LinkedIn, Amazon, and Goldman Sachs. The panel gave advice on how to get into these types of companies, what to put on your resume, and how to apply.

After an internship with Google’s Real Estate and Work Services division last summer, Ogbuagu was also able to bring a Google recruiter to campus via Google hangouts, to speak to students about what Google looks for in successful employees.

I quickly lose interest in all things SGA related, and ask Ogbuagu to talk about his experience at Google.

“Google was dope,” Ogbuagu says. “What’s nice about working at a company like that  is you’re surrounded by these smart, ambitious, talented people, but then you know, on the weekend you’re going out with them. Talking about student type stuff, but also talking about what’s going on in business, or start up ideas.”

Ogbuagu’s main project consisted of doing data analytics and report templating for one of Google’s biggest employee surveys. An aspiring investment banker, Ogbuagu wasn’t faced by the long hours and competitive atmosphere.

“Investment banking?” I whisper, conscious of the phrase’s potential for inciting a Grill riot. “What inspired that decision?”

“Just from the various Econ classes I’ve taken, it’s clear that a lot of what’s influencing our lives is the way that large companies, in both the public and private sectors, engage with each other,” Ogbuagu explains. “So for me, a firm understanding of the market is a firm understanding of how the world works.”

I quickly shift the topic, sensing a crowd of incensed anti-capitalists converging around our table. Ogbuagu describes his favorite non-Econ class at Grinnell, Craft of Fiction, and explains that in an alternative universe, he would be an English-Philosophy double major.

“Are you a good writer?” I ask.

“Well uh…Dean Bakopoulos said I should submit one of my short stories to a competition ‘cause he liked it so much,” Ogbuagu laughs coyly. “But I mean….I’m not saying that. I’m ok, I guess. I dabble.”

In addition to his position as Clangrala Senator, Ogbuagu also helps instruct Salseros de Grinnell, and makes it a point to support whatever other clubs his friends are involved with.

“That’s usually where I find myself: not necessarily the leader of group but helping other leaders achieve their potential,” Ogbuagu explains.

According to Ogbuagu, part of what makes Grinnell so special is it’s propensity to force you to evaluate who you are, not just internally, but in terms of how you relate to the greater community. Often times this means reconciling the wide spectrum of Grinnell student stories and identities with who you are or want to be.

“So what would first year Nelson think of you?” I ask. “What would you guys talk about?”

“He would be proud and disappointed at the same time,” Ogbuagu laughs. “He’d probably be like, ‘Damn bro, Chemistry to Econ? 0 to 100 real quick’. We’d talk about the girls. The parties. He’d be surprised.”

“So you were a square in high school?” I deduce.

Ogbuagu laughs.

“That’s a strong word,” he says. “But I wasn’t as comfortable with myself. With my appearance, with what I wanted to do. I was just following the pack in terms of the friends I made, the things I said. I was going to major in Chemistry just cause my parents wanted me to. I wasn’t thinking for myself. But when I got here I guess I realized me is all I got.”

“Why do people like Nelson?” I ask.

“Cause Nelson likes people,” he says without missing a beat. “I don’t try to start any trouble, I’m down to talk to anyone about anything. I’m just about having a good time, having some good conversations with some good people, staying on my grind, getting this money. Those philosophies…you can’t be mad at that.”

Ogbuagu has earned my trust, and I feel a sudden urge to reveal my identity.

“I don’t know if you remember this, but first year sometimes I would come up to you at Gardner and be like ‘Yoooo, teach me some dance moves!’”

Nelson grins, making it immediately clear he has not forgotten.

“That’s what I love about a lot of people here,” Ogbuagu says. “If they wanna talk to you, or are curious about a certain part of you, they’ll just ask. The boldness here..it’s cool. It makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. And if someone comes up to me and is like ‘teach me how to dance, I’m going to make sure I’m worthy of instructing.”

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