Empowering Students to Reach Higher

When he reflects on being born in St. Paul and living most of his life in the city, Martin Odima '13 says “It makes me feel good that I grew up in this area.”

Odima, who received his master’s degree in education at the University of St. Thomas, has a sense of fulfillment knowing that he is making a difference in the lives of both children and other educators in his hometown.

“Imagine if every student felt empowered to reach higher,” he said. “As a teacher of color, I know that being a role model can make a huge difference.”

Martin started his career as a teaching assistant in special education classrooms in the St. Paul school district, mostly working with students with emotional behavior disorders. “It was very intense,” he said.

It was also eye-opening. That was when I learned about kids with special education needs and disabilities. Is it a question of ability or of opportunity? Some of them didn’t get science in their schooling; it didn’t seem right.”

The teacher he worked with encouraged him to make teaching his profession. He applied to the collaborative educators program through St. Thomas. It is free tuition if the participant agrees to work in an urban school for three to five years. And those are just the students Odima wanted to continue to support, so it was an easy decision. He received the scholarship to St. Thomas that so far has been awarded to more than 500 teachers of color in Minnesota.

The most rewarding aspect of becoming a teacher, he said, is “creating opportunities for students, especially for the students who are the most marginalized.”

Odima has now become a teacher’s teacher – a teacher coach. “I try to do one-on-one coaching for teachers and give them a lot of ideas. I feel like I am a therapist – creating opportunities for others.”

Some of these opportunities he has had, he said, came about because he continued to network with his St. Thomas professors. With one of them, he has even co-written a book chapter. Now, Martin is starting a new chapter as a teacher. He is an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas, teaching a foundation special education course. “I took that class when I was getting my license,” he said. Staying connected to the amazing network of St. Thomas faculty and staff has opened up so many opportunities for Martin and the students he works with on a daily basis.

That’s why Martin Odima is proud to say that he is a Tommie.

Learn more about Undergraduate and Graduate programs at the St. Thomas School of Education.