An Ambassador on and off the Field: Yolanda Odenyo Has Excelled Both Academically and Athletically and Brought a Global Perspective to the Oklahoma State University Women's Soccer Team

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She realizes it caused a few chuckles--a foreign student leading a voter registration drive--but for Oklahoma State University soccer midfielder Yolanda Odenyo it seemed totally natural.

"OSU has a very small portion of minority or Black students," she notes. "A large portion of the Black student population at OSU is [composed of] athletes. We wanted to make sure they aren't just involved in terms of talking about the election, but also exercising their right to vote. I was brought up realizing that not everyone in the world has a right to vote."

Odenyo grew up in Sweden the daughter of a Swedish mother and Kenyan father. Each year, she would spend her summer months in either Kenya or Zaire. She believes her extensive travels gave her a global perspective and a strong appreciation for human rights and responsibilities. Her drive to excel on and off the soccer field has led to her selection as the Diverse 2009 Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sports Scholar of the Year.

Although the elite levels of soccer are more passionately played in Europe and West Africa than in the United States, Odenyo knew she wanted to go to college in the United States. She originally set her sights on attending the University of North Carolina, but ran into issues with NCAA compliance.

In Sweden, young soccer players don't play on school teams, they play on club teams. Although Odenyo never received a penny, she was deemed a professional because others at her club were paid. OSU wanted her to play for the school, so they saw to it she was reinstated. To show her appreciation and loyalty, she's given four years of outstanding play on the field--even playing to the finish in this, her senior season, despite suffering a back injury. She led the Big 12 Conference in goals (16) and points (37)--an OSU Cowgirl Soccer single season record. Odenyo was named the OSU student-athlete of the year.

She says being a student-athlete makes the transition to a new country easier than it might be for the average foreign student.

"No matter how much you get along or don't get along with your teammates and coaches, you have people who are constantly looking out for you and making sure you have what you need to succeed," she says. …