In Pursuit of Culture Change

Monique Ositelu ’11 brings an equity lens to higher education.

By Ron Wagner ’93

Monique Ositelu ’11 has made a career out of expertly analyzing mountains of information to reach fact-based conclusions as a data scientist. When she was a second-year Furman student, however, it took only a single data point – one person – to come to one of the most profound understandings of her life.

“The most beautiful part of it is she contradicted everything I thought a person with a Ph.D. was,” Ositelu says of Associate Professor of Psychology Michelle Horhota. “She was young. She was a woman. She was from Canada. I could relate with her on so many levels, and that allowed me to see myself as someone who could get a Ph.D., maybe.”

Today, Ositelu doesn’t have to imagine the Ph.D. – it hangs on her wall, earned in higher education with a specialization in public policy from Florida State University. The experience she had as Horhota’s undergraduate researcher deserves a great deal of the credit.

“It changed my life. She let me do anything and everything I wanted. I ran the experiments; I got to do some quantitative analysis. I was doing graduate-level work,” Ositelu says. “Dr. Horhota gave me my foundation as a quantitative researcher.”

It’s a foundation upon which Ositelu, now a senior policy analyst at New America in Washington, D.C., has become a powerful voice devoted to college access and degree completion for historically underserved students.

Reports she wrote on Pell Grant eligibility restrictions and the skills gap barriers individuals face when they try to enter the workforce after involvement with the justice system were cited by Inside Higher Ed and Diverse Issues in Education. Ositelu also took on the National Collegiate Athletic Association in an op-ed written for Diverse Issues in Education, arguing that its annual Academic Progress Rates scores disproportionately and unfairly penalize historically black colleges and universities and other low-resourced schools.

The goal is to provide policy recommendations that, if enacted, will help change the culture of higher education to be “inclusive of students who higher ed actually was never intended for,” as she puts it.

“I’m not a lobbyist – I’m a researcher. I’m an advocate. I don’t go out and go to rallies. My research speaks for itself, my research is objective, and my research comes from an equity lens,” Ositelu says. “I provide technical assistance via interpretation of research findings with congressional staff … adding to the policy debate on federal financial aid programs for incarcerated students.”

For instance, she provides talking points for members of Congress to support their legislation.

Ositelu, a native of Salisbury, Maryland, came to Furman to run track and had an outstanding career highlighted by winning the Southern Conference 800-meter-run indoor championship in 2009. After graduation, she enrolled in the master’s in public administration program at the University of Texas-El Paso and began training on a pre-Olympics development team. Because her father is Nigerian, Ositelu was eligible to compete on that country’s national team, and she improved her time so much she qualified to represent Nigeria at the 2014 IAAF World Relays.

An injury to her Achilles tendon ended her running career, unfortunately, but Ositelu stayed around as a graduate assistant on the UTEP track team and began to realize her potential as an academic. More recently, she has also begun to realize her potential as an entrepreneur with the launch of her company, Data Driven Consulting and Solutions, where she uses data analytics to support decision-making at institutions of higher education, corporations and nonprofits.

“Where I am now is very gratifying,” she says, “because it is something that I never thought I would be doing.”

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