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Dr. Oristegbemi O. Omatete

A Profile of Dr. Oristegbemi O. Omatete

Edited By: Dr. Timothy O. Odi, Secretary NSChE, USA Branch

Congratulations to Dr. O. O. Omatete (Omats) who recently retired after over three decades of distinguished, active career in chemical engineering practice in both industry and academia in Nigeria and USA.

A first-generation Nigerian chemical engineer, Omats received his primary education at the First Baptist School Sapele, in the former Midwestern region (now Delta State), Nigeria. He received his secondary and high school education from Government College Ughelli, passing his West African School Certificate (WASC - 1958) with Grade I and Cambridge Overseas Higher School Certificate (HSC - 1960) with exemption.

Omats was admitted to Princeton University in the United States with full scholarship in 1961 to study chemical engineering. He received the BSE degree in 1964 and the MSE in 1967. Also, in 1967, he obtained the MPA degree in Public Affairs from Woodrow Wilson School in Princeton University. He then earned a PhD degree in chemical engineering from University of California, Berkeley, in 1971 and did a post doctorate until 1972.

Having been away from Nigeria in pursuit of the Golden Fleece in USA for almost a decade (1961-1972), Omats returned to Nigeria in 1972 determined to contribute to the development of the country, just like hundreds of Nigerian professionals of that generation, immediate post independent and pre-civil war Nigeria; and contribute, they did!

Omats joined the new chemical engineering department, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, in 1972 as a lecturer, to teach the first-generation, indigenous, Nigerian chemical engineers. After a 2-year stint at Ife, Omats continued his teaching career at the University of Lagos (Unilag), becoming a foundation staff and lecturer in the then young chemical engineering department of the university in 1974. He rose through the ranks to an associate professor and chairman of the department before he left in 1988.

At Unilag, Omats taught many generations of chemical engineers, including the editor of this profile. Today, Omats' many former students, both from Ife and Lagos, occupy important positions in the petroleum and petrochemical industries and academia in Nigeria and abroad - an attestation of Omats' immense contribution to the development of Nigeria and the world!

After almost a 15-year career at Unilag, Omats returned to the US in 1988, accepting a research position at the Dept of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Tennessee. He worked at Oak Ridge until retirement recently in 2003.

At ORNL, Omats crowned his distinguished university teaching and research career in Nigeria with four patents and several awards for the co-invention of the "aqueous gelcasting" process for forming complex-shaped advanced ceramic for space-age applications.

Omats is well remembered and respected by many former students and professional colleagues, who describe him as a teacher, mentor and an inspiration. Many have written to express their appreciation and to wish him and his family well in retirement. Excerpted quotes from few of them are as follows.

Prof. Okorafor (B.S. ChE, Unilag, 1977) former student: "What can I say or where shall I begin? I thank God that I had the privilege of being one of your students in the late 1970s, when Unilag was Unilag. Sir, you were more of a guardian than a professor."

Dr. Adewale (B.S. ChE, Unilag, 1981) former student: "I have many fond memories of Dr. Omatete. Each time I think of him, there is a smile on my face. I truly admired his uncanny ability to communicate the practical and the fundamental principles of a subject matter."

Dr. Odueyungbo (B.S. ChE, Unilag, 1981) former student: "Dr. Omats has inspired a lot of us by his teaching, mentoring, among other activities. He is a great role model and contributed tremendously to the development of chemical engineering in Nigeria. He ranks among the very best teachers (not professors) that I have ever known."

Dr. Erick Kalu (B.S. ChE, Unilag, 1984) former student: "Omats is a very open-minded leader, a cheerleader extraordinaire. He encourages everyone to go as far as possible to reach his or her potential. Only very rare and special professors treat their students as junior colleagues. Omats is one of such rare character. He has provided us all with an example of how a person should behave in our demanding and competing world. He is a gentleman of first order."

Dr. Emmanuel Dada (B.S. ChE, OAU, 1980) friend of Omats: "Dr. Omatete is a very warm and friendly person who believes in doing the best for the chemical engineering profession in Nigeria and seeing to the growth of the profession. He is one of the few Nigerians, in my opinion, that gives opportunity to the younger generations to take up tasks and guide them to successful completion. I had many fruitful discussions and encounters with Dr. Omatete one of which is the formation of the USA chapter of NSChE. Dr. Omatete placed the responsibility on me to take over the formation of the USA chapter from where he has tried to initiate it with an assurance that he will give his support to the chapter. Dr. Omatete lived to his promise by not only supporting the chapter's activities but by becoming a life chapter member in spite of the fact that he was already a life member of the parent NSChE in Nigeria. On a more personal note, Dr. Omatete was very quick in helping me professionally anytime I have had to talk to him for advice and favor. He well deserves his retirement and I wish him and his wife enjoyment and full life. And a big thanks to him and other pioneers who made sacrifices to train Nigerian chemical engineers."

Signed.

Timothy O. Odi, B.S. ChE (Unilag, 1980), Ph.D., former student Secretary, Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers, USA-Chapter
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