After 45 years of exemplary service to Brookdale Community College, Dr. Elaine Henry Olaoye, professor of Psychology, is retiring and embarking on a new stage in her life. She was honored at the Board of Trustees’ recent meeting for her distinguished career and for the high esteem she has earned among her peers, faculty, college administrators, and the Board of Trustees.
Dr. Olaoye was born in Montserrat. She graduated high school at 14 years In Tortola, BVI, then moved back to Antigua, the island she calls home, where she took a two-year college course and then taught High School students at 17 years at Sunnyside School. She came to New York City and graduated magna cum laude with a baccalaureate from Hunter College and then completed a master’s degree there. A professor encouraged her to do a doctorate and she was awarded a scholarship, and continued her education at CUNY Graduate Center and received an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in psychology.
In 1977, Brookdale hired a recruiting agency from New York City to diversify its faculty. Dr. Olaoye was near completion of her Ph.D. and at St. Peter’s College. Dr. Olaoye was their top recommendation and she drove to the interview at Brookdale on the day of the New York City Black out. She has since served Brookdale Community College as a full-time psychology faculty member retaining the current rank of Full Professor and served as team leader and department chair in the 1980s and ’90s. Dr. Olaoye is among the longest faculty persons teaching online: She chose ITV early as an effective method for reaching other Brookdale centers, and it relieved her from traveling from Asbury Park, where she had chosen to teach, when Brookdale had a Center there, to New York City at night!
In addition to teaching at Brookdale Community College, she has served students from other colleges in the region. Including St Peter’s College, Medgar Evers College, CUNY Lehman College, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I chose those colleges in part because they exposed me to minority students, and I wanted to share whatever gifts I had with them,” she said. “And, like Brookdale learning was affordably priced: these students have some of the lowest student loan debts.”
Dr. Olaoye will be remembered most for her commitment to excellence. Her psychology students presented at the Hunter College Annual Conference and the Beacon Conference, which celebrates and showcases the academic achievements of outstanding students at community colleges in the mid-Atlantic region. “It is an opportunity for our students to be part of a larger academic community,” she said.
In the late 1990’s she consulted with professors from the University of Pennsylvania to establish the Positive Psychology Research Center on our campus. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. “We had Brookdale Positive Psychology Fellows doing research in the area,” Dr. Olaoye said.
One of her signature achievements was to make Brookdale the first community college to negotiate a Statistics course in Psychology for credit transfer and program articulation with Rutgers University.
“It is a four-credit course that is very well enrolled now,” she said. “It is a critical course for the major, and sets a student on a path of excellence when they move on to a four-year college.”
Dr. Olaoye has received many awards and recognitions, including the Brookdale Outstanding Colleague Award and the NISOD Excellence Award. Although she has said about her greatest accomplishments, “I don’t think they are done yet. They are to come.”
She was recognized for her global perspective and received the 2018 Global Distinction Lifetime Contribution Award. For many years, she taught at Brookdale’s international Ecuador campus. She has been a member of the International Council of Psychologists (ICP), a Board member of the Manhattan Psychological Association (MPA), and the Psychology Coalition at the United Nations (PCUN), which organizes the annual UN Psychology Day.
She established a student scholarship in her native country of Antigua and Barbuda based on students writing about connections between the Sciences and the Humanities. As a result of the scholarship, one recipient’s mother reported that her daughter is going to be a pediatrician and a novelist! In addition, Dr. Olaoye has just established the Zimbardo-Olaoye scholarship at Brookdale for scholarly writings that focus on social and environmental justice and social psychology topics.
Dr. Olaoye has maintained an ongoing collegial relationship with Dr. Phillip Zimbardo of Stanford University. This relationship transformed the annual International Psychology and Poetry Festival to include the Heroic Imagination Project, which recognizes individual college and community members whose work as world’s quiet heroes make their community a better place.
Dr. Olaoye has many publications, the oldest being Passions of the Soul, Northwest Enterprises 1998 a poetry collection. When she joined Brookdale in 1977, she had just returned from presenting a paper to the American Psychological Association. However, “Poetry,” she said. “It became a critical location from which I could do critical thinking, gain insights, explore stress and a range of emotions and write.”
Notably, chapter publications in Psychology texts include Prosocial Behavior through ‘Everyday Heroism’ The Heroic Imagination Project, authored with Philip Zimbardo, in Behavioral Science in the Global Arena: Global Mental, Spiritual and Social Health Editors Elaine Congress et. Information Age Publishing Charlotte NC, 2022. Increasing Resilience in Multiple Minority Clients using Positive Psychology was a chapter in Multiple Minority Identities, Editors, R. Balter et al. Springer Publishing 2012. Dr. Olaoye serves on the Editorial Board of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books. Dr. Olaoye also presents annually at various U.S. and Caribbean conferences.
Dr. Olaoye is currently working on an academic memoir using the medium of poetry. It will be about her love for Brookdale colleagues, students, and campus, as well as concerns about larger academic issues. She shared a verse.
“My poems are spaces, places,
Memories, like many beautiful ones of Brookdale,
Hallowed in verses,
Where you can enter
And look around, choose to sit down,
Pull down words, images, and concepts, related to friends and subjects
Meaning, emotions, motivations, calls to action,
Flowering trees, bright blue spaciousness, lots of parking lots, wood lit sunsets,
Not just once, but many times,
Not just in clock time, but in magical times.”
Also included in her memoir is a poem titled “An Alpha and An Omega” for President Dr. David Stout. “Because I was at his beginning at Brookdale and he is at my departing,” she said. “I have supported and celebrated his meteoric rise and I enjoy admiring him being such a wonderful president. Doing this academic memoir is bringing up many memories, and it’s been good, it’s been very good.” She is considering the title, Memories, and Reflections: 45 years of Gratitude.
Dr. Olaoye also recently wrote a beautiful tribute to Mrs. Geraldine Livingston Thompson, “First Lady of Brookdale,” which will be displayed at the Smithsonian Voices & Votes exhibition at the Monmouth Museum, located on the Brookdale Community College campus from August 20 through October 2, 2022. And she was invited to read her poem during the opening reception. “Reading a poem and hearing a poem being read are two very different experiences,” she said. “Reading just makes it come alive!”
Honored at a recent retirement party, one of her colleagues said this about her.
“Elaine has been a close colleague and professional friend during my 38 years working at Brookdale,” said Franklyn Rother, professor of Psychology. “She headed the search committee that interviewed me in August 1984, which led to my hire as a full-time Psychology Instructor and Coordinator of the Human Services Program. We taught an Introductory Psychology course together for 17 years. During this period, I experienced first-hand her commitment to a “culture d learning” for students that supported their “critical thinking” about the world they live in along with their place in and potential effect on it. Her tenure at Brookdale serves as a model for students, staff members and colleagues to use “barriers” as opportunities for personal growth, social awareness, and sources of strength that create and sustain organizational and social change.
Our collegial friendship will continue beyond her retirement (as well as mine), as we are both committed to the expansion of knowledge in Social Psychology and its applications and use in furthering Social Justice in our own society and across the globe.”
It is not possible to adequately express the impact that Dr. Olaoye has had on Brookdale Community College, its employees, its students, and its surrounding community. Nor how beloved professor Dr. Olaoye is and the degree to which her colleagues will miss her as she enters retirement.
Photo: Dr. Elaine H. Olaoye, Grand Marshal of 2022 Brookdale Community College Commencement, with President Dr. David M. Stout.