‘Chicago Was Calling to Me’

When Okwara Uzoh ’10 first set eyes on Chicago, he knew that someday he would call the city “home.” Alma College’s theatre and computer science programs helped him get there.

<em>From November 2008: Okwara Uzoh performs in "Good Neighbors."</em>From November 2008: Okwara Uzoh performs in "Good Neighbors."Okwara Uzoh ’10 has a clear memory of his first visit to Chicago.

When he and his family moved from Nigeria to Michigan, they landed at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

“I’m in a van passing through on highway 90/94, and I see this Chicago White Sox sign,” he says. “I’m seeing over here to my left-hand side the city skyline. That was when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I remember that vividly when we were driving through on our way to Berrien Springs.”

He knew that he had to make it back to the Windy City. It would be a dream he’d hold on to for another decade.

“Chicago was just calling to me,” he says. “‘This is home — this is where you want to be.’”

Applying at Alma: His Only Choice

After he graduated from Berrien Springs High School, his family planned to move to Maryland. He knew he wouldn’t have his family nearby to support him during college, so that’s why he looked at small colleges, where he felt he’d be more likely to find a support system. He visited Alma College and auditioned for the theatre program.

“Honestly, Karen and Joe really helped with my decision to come to Alma,” he says, referring to Karen Jezewski, who works in the Admissions Office, and Joe Jezewski, an associate professor of theatre.

“Before my audition, Karen told me to be myself,” says Uzoh. “After that, I knew right then and there I would be receiving my college education from Alma.”

He applied to just one college: Alma. He found a home in the theatre program and his fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon.

The opportunity to go to Chicago came his junior year when he applied to an off-campus studies program through the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture.

“It was the best summer of my life,” he says.

Internship at the Chicago Center

The Chicago Center connected him to an internship at Free Street Theatre, where he performed for kids at different neighborhood parks throughout Chicago. He spent the summer in the Hyde Park neighborhood where he lives now.

<em>From February 2010: Okwara Uzoh performs in "Crimes of the Heart."</em>From February 2010: Okwara Uzoh performs in "Crimes of the Heart."After graduating from Alma with a double major in theatre and computer science, he returned to Chicago — this time for a year-long apprenticeship at the Chicago Center as its marketing and public relations coordinator. He helped them with their technology needs, including setting up webinars, posting videos to YouTube, upgrading computers, working on their database, and creating interactive emails.

When the apprenticeship ended, he started working at the University of Chicago as an application administrator and is currently a systems manager. He helps maintain the databases for the Office of Enrollment and Student Advancement.

During that time, he also got a Master of Science in Information Systems at Northwestern University.

“Grad school was a cake walk compared to an Alma College education,” laughs Uzoh.

He credits his computer science professors, friends and especially his theatre professor Joe Jezewski with helping him get to where he is now.

“He is such an amazing human being, and he strives to make us better human beings,” he says. “I think one day, I called him ‘God.’ And we theatre folks always thought of him as a father figure.”

Working in Field of Computer Science

Uzoh says the theatre program helped in shaping who he is today.

“It helped me so much because I came in as a student whom nobody understood; my dialect was not as fluid or clear,” he says. “My English skills are better, my communication skills are better, and my people skills are so much better because of the theatre program.”

Even though Uzoh works in the field of computer science, theatre continues to play a significant role in his life. He hadn’t realized it at the time, but in addition to voice and language warm-ups, Alma’s theatre warm-ups included yoga — which he now does several times per week. And he tries to get involved with the community theatre in his neighborhood when he has time.

“You have to be hard-working in order to get to where you are, and I feel that my Alma education really helped with that,” says Uzoh. “There is only one Alma, and plaid really does work.”

Story published on May 02, 2016