Keynote speaker connects with students at annual diversity summit

“Making the world a better place is about bringing people to where they can maximize their potential,” Martey-Ochola said

Speaker Dr. Christine Martey-Ochola spoke to an engaged group of students, faculty and staff. Photo by: Bradley Moore | Torch Photographer

Entrepeneur Dr. Christine Martey-Ochola speaks English along with several Kenyen languages. At Thursday’s diversity, equity and inclusion summit, she only spoke her truth.

Martey-Ochola is the Lead Consultant at Grand Rapids’ Cultural Intelligence Center, a Pennsylvania STEM ambassador and CEO of haircare company Nuele. She traveled to Big Rapids to share a message of multiculturalism in one’s professional and personal life.

This year’s summit was titled “Speaking up and Speaking Out: Your Voice Matters!” Keynote speaker Martey-Ochola spoke on finding voice through cultural intelligence. She believes that every person “shows up” with their own personality and mannerisms and that there is great value in recognizing these differences.

“Our cultural differences can empower us to build a better world,” Martey-Ochola said.

The diverse crowd of students, staff and faculty listened intently and laughed genuinely during the speech. Martey-Ochola offered experiences from her own family life in order to connect with the audience on a more personal level. She is confident in her ability to engage with college students because she has been in their position once herself.

“Even for students who are planners— who know where they want to go with their lives and their careers—there’s always a certain level of uncertainty,” Martey-Ochola said. “I find that if I can bring forward the experiences I’ve had, then maybe it’s going to make a student’s life easier. Or it can just minimize that anxiety a little bit around what tomorrow could look like.”

After moving from Kenya to Pennsylvania to study biochemistry and philosophy, Martey-Ochola knows how it feels to be immersed in a new culture. She encourages students to seek unity in unlikely places because “there’s always a home somewhere in them.”

“When [students] go to that other place, everybody might look different from them, might even speak differently from them. But there’ll be a unifying culture somewhere in there… Nine times out of ten, they’ll find something that they love,” Martey-Ochola said.

Martey-Ochola was able to unite with Ferris community members in a discussion about overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. This sparked a rapport between her and several students, including third year communications major Berenise Alvarez.

According to Alvarez, students were drawn to the keynote speaker’s friendly nature and honest communication.

“I think her personality, and what she kind of gave off was very welcoming. And, specifically minorities, we look for that,” Alvarez said.

Following Martey-Ochola’s speech, Alvarez spoke on the breakout panel, “Walking the Talk: Narratives on Inclusion from a Student Lens.” This talk analyzed Ferris’ campus climate, as well as Big Rapids as a whole. The panelists discussed potential solutions to cultural exclusivity.

“Be willing to learn about other people. Don’t give those nasty stares. We’re human. Just because we look different than everyone else, just because we speak a different language, doesn’t mean that we’re horrible… We just want everyone to be treated equally and be welcoming. A simple ‘hi’ or smile, that goes a long way,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez was one of thirteen students who attended the summit dressed to represent their culture in Greek life. As a member of the multicultural sorority Sigma Lambda Gamma, she encourages students to interact with the Ferris community with an open mind.

The summit was a collaborative effort between the Center for Student Involvement, the Office of Multicultural Student Services and the Kendall College of Art and Design. Assistant dean of student life and director of student conduct Nicholas Campau was one of the many organizers. His goal was to “provide a great experience for the campus and community.”

Campau was pleased with how the summit turned out. He especially appreciated the remarks of the keynote speaker.

“[Martey-Ochola was] incredible in terms of content and [provided] real-life examples that are relatable…, which just [brought] the material to life. It’s not just dry textbook,” Campau said.

For information on upcoming cultural events, visit the Ferris event calendar or the OMSS’s social media pages.