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Dr. Babatunde Ogunnaike (March 26, 1956 – February 20, 2022) passed away peacefully on February 20, 2022, surrounded by his family. He is remembered as a brilliant administrator, researcher, professor, mentor, musician, athlete, coach, calligrapher, and poet; a beloved friend, brother, husband, father, and grandfather; and a devout Christian.
Born in 1956 in Ijebu-Igbo, Nigeria to Adesijibomi Ogunnaike, an educator and administrator, and Ayoola Oduneye, an educator and businesswoman, Babatunde was the second of their eight children and their oldest son. Known for his bookish, contemplative, and caring nature as a boy, he was something of a prodigy, skipping two primary school grades and particularly excelling in mathematics and the sciences. He attended Government College Ibadan from 1966-1972, where he was affectionately known as “Papa,” the nickname given to his father, a notable alumnus of the same institution. There Babatunde also excelled in music, playing bass for Sound Incorporated, a band that would go on to produce internationally-renowned musicians such as Lágbájá. A true polymath, he also distinguished himself as a painter, designer of clothes, and calligrapher—his beautiful penmanship became one of his calling cards. “Papa” was also a formidable athlete, playing competitive soccer and field hockey, the latter for the 1977 Nigerian National Team.
He attended the University of Lagos from 1973 to 1976, earning a B.A. with first-class honors in Chemical Engineering. He completed his National Youth Service in Port Harcourt in 1977, where he responded to a call seeking contributions for a new national anthem. The poem he submitted would come to comprise most of the second stanza of Nigeria’s current national anthem:
Oh God of creation,
Direct our noble cause
Guide our leaders right
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace and justice reign.
These lines eloquently epitomize the causes to which he would devote his life: God, teaching, mentoring/parenting, and improving the condition of Nigeria (and later, the United States and beyond).
In 1978, he traveled to the United States to pursue a doctorate in Chemical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, under the guidance of Prof. Harmon Ray, with whom he would later co-author a celebrated textbook, Process Dynamics, Modeling, and Control. He graduated in 1981 with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Statistics. He then worked for Shell in Houston, Texas for a year, before returning to teach at the University of Lagos from 1982-1988. Dissatisfied with the available materials for his students, he wrote by hand and published his first book, Principles of Mathematical Modeling and Analysis in Chemical Engineering, for them. During his tenure at the University of Lagos, he trained many students who would go on to have notable careers in various fields of engineering.
While in Madison, he met and fell in love with Anna Marie Denison, a musician studying education at the University of Wisconsin. They married in 1983, and she moved to join him in Lagos the same year. They formed the popular gospel band, Solid Rock, and the bible study Dr. Babatunde led in their home in Oshodi was quite popular and influential in the burgeoning Charismatic Christian movement in Nigeria. He was mentored by the influential British-Nigerian evangelist “Pa” S.G. Elton, for whom he served as a lifelong confidant and friend.
In order to support his family, when living conditions in Nigeria became too difficult, Dr. Babatunde, his wife Anna, and their young son, Oludamini, moved to the United States, where their second son, Ayọdeji, was born. Dr. Ogunnaike and his family moved to Delaware, where he worked as a researcher for DuPont and taught part-time at the University of Delaware. In 2002, he joined the faculty of the University of Delaware’s Department of Chemical Engineering full-time, and held the William L. Friend chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. His research both at DuPont and the University of Delaware in systems dynamics, mathematical modeling, and process control had profound implications in fields as diverse as biology, bioengineering, medicine, applied mathematics, statistics, and chemical engineering, solving many difficult issues in these fields as well as in industrial processes. This wide-ranging influence was largely due to his humility and collaborative approach to research—he often said that “success is a shared game, there are certain successes that can never happen unless you work with somebody else.” He authored four books and over a hundred publications in major academic journals and held a patent and a vast array of awards and honors. Among these awards were the University of Delaware’s Medal of Distinction, his election to the US Academy of Engineering, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the National Academy of Inventors.
But he considered his work as a teacher and mentor just as, if not more, important than his impressive research career. He trained and mentored numerous students who have gone on to have illustrious careers in various fields of engineering and was awarded the University of Delaware’s Slocomb Excellence in Teaching Award. He returned to Nigeria frequently, working to support and improve graduate and undergraduate education in engineering there. He taught and was an affiliate faculty member at the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja, Nigeria, and spent his sabbatical in 2019 at the University of Guyana. In a lecture for undergraduate students there, drawing on his own experience, he told them:
“We are all born curious. It is amazing how school beats it out of us. Kids are the most curious people you have ever seen. In between then and when they get to university we beat it out of them. Don’t ever lose your curiosity. Go back to when you were a child, go back to that curiosity, don’t lose that curiosity, your country needs you.”
Dr. Ogunnaike served as interim Dean for the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering from 2011-2013, and Dean from 2013-2018, raising millions of dollars for the college and consolidating its reputation as a world-class center of research and undergraduate and graduate training in engineering. In honor of Dr. Ogunnaike’s seven years of service as dean, the University established the Babatunde Ogunnaike Global Engineering Student Enrichment Fund, which is structured to provide financial assistance for students to engage in meaningful global activities, such as an Engineers Without Borders service trip, a study abroad program, or international research in support of a new entrepreneurial venture.
Dr. Ogunnaike was beloved by his students, who repeatedly voted him “the best-dressed professor,” and was perhaps even more beloved by the many young men he coached in local soccer. Most weekends, “Coach Tunde” could be found on the sidelines, leading and later cheering on his beloved Hockessin Silverhawks. On Sundays, Dr. Ogunnaike played guitar and led worship at the various churches he attended in the area.
Dr. Ogunnaike was a devoted family man and gracefully balanced his numerous professional commitments and accomplishments with an active family and spiritual life. He supported numerous charitable causes, but considered his greatest legacy and pride to be his good name and his three children and three grandchildren. He liked to quote Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold,” and 3 John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” His sons have each carried forward his academic legacy: the two eldest are professors at UVA and Bowdoin, respectively, and the youngest is currently completing his PhD at MIT. Dr. Ogunnaike was the very best of fathers and grandfathers, a beloved husband of 38 years, a cherished brother, uncle, friend, advisor, and confidant. Always ready with a humorous quip or proverb and sage counsel, Dr. Ogunnaike strove to combine the best of his Yoruba heritage and values with the best of American culture, and the result was extraordinary.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021, and passed peacefully six months later, surrounded by his family, including his newborn granddaughter.
He is survived by his beloved wife, Anna; sons, Oludamini, Ayodeji, and Olumakinde; daughters-in-law, Naseemah and Stacy; grandchildren, Jibril Oluwasanumi, Sakinah Ayokari, and Anuoluwapo Liliane; and siblings, Iyabo, Segun, Seun, Dupe, Yomi, Seyi, and Wole.
We all join in the prayer from the Pentateuch, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” (Numbers 23:10)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and space restrictions, a small, closed ceremony will be held for immediate family only on Friday, March 4th at 3pm. A livestream of the event will be available on this webpage during the service. The University of Delaware is planning a larger memorial service at a later date that will be open to the public.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in honor of Dr. Babatunde Ogunnaike be made to the following causes that were dear to his heart:
Babatunde Ogunnaike Global Engineering Student Enrichment Fund (https://ud.alumniq.com/giving/to/19WAE)
During his time as Dean, he strove to advance the idea that engineers should solve global human problems to change the world for the better. His love of teaching also led him to make practical and interdisciplinary experiences an essential part of training scientists and engineers to prepare them to make significant, global impacts. This fund was established to perpetuate his legacy by supporting student research and projects that serve these ends.
One of Dr. Ogunnaike’s lifelong efforts and dreams was to use his expertise and academic training for the benefit of Nigeria as a country and Africa and the African diaspora as a whole. He wrote grants, established programs, and was involved with various institutions to this end. Over the past few years, he had been working with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, which provides world-class training and mentorship from top-level experts to doctoral students and early career academics in Africa, and he had hoped to invest his time and energy there after retirement. Donations made in US dollars here (https://www.oluponafoundation.org/donate) will be of great benefit to the Institute.
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network: (http://support.pancan.org/goto/Babatunde_Ogunnaike)
Though often manageable at early stages, pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult to detect. At the time of his own diagnosis, Dr. Ogunnaike was conducting research on some of the dynamics governing this cancer. Although he was privileged to have world-class care at Johns Hopkins, his own case was already quite advanced when it was detected. This fund (http://support.pancan.org/goto/Babatunde_Ogunnaike) will support research for better detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Action Against Hunger (Nigeria) (https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/donate/save-lives-end-hunger)
Throughout his life, Dr. Ogunnaike strove to improve conditions in his home country of Nigeria. He returned frequently to give lectures and establish new initiatives, fought to create and support opportunities for Nigerian and African students at the University of Delaware, and even consulted on the Nigerian response to the Covid-19 crisis. This fund (https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/donate/save-lives-end-hunger) addresses some of the most pressing humanitarian issues affecting his beloved country of Nigeria.