Eric Otieno wins DAAD Student Prize at Goethe University

Post in: Englisch

I am happy to announce that my student Mr. Eric Otieno won the Goethe University DAAD Student Prize in January 2014. I wrote his letter of recommendation and gave a talk at his awards ceremony to describe Eric and why he deserves the prize.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Eric Otieno when he took my course “Sociology of Work and Gender” in the Winter Semester of 2011-2012. Eric impressed me from the beginning with his quiet, soft-spoken way of contributing absolutely crucial and brilliant points in class discussion. He was able to make sophisticated links between, for example, gender and race or gender and family background, meaning that already in an early semester he was able to arrive at the sophisticated topic of intersectionalities on his own and to work through the consequences of intersectionalities in ways even more advanced students have difficulty with. That’s why, when I was looking for tutors for the introductory sociology course (a class with over 800 students), I invited Eric to apply. I told him I thought he had what it takes: leadership qualities like enough self-confidence to stand in front of a classroom of students, and scholarly qualities like the ability to break a topic or idea down into smaller parts to explain it to someone new to the topic. Eric was offered and accepted the position, and sure enough, out of 14 tutors, Eric was one of the most highly evaluated from the students. He was in new territory while working as a tutor for the first time, but he gained the knowledge he needed and led his group with sovereignty and professionalism. His group was extremely well-prepared and very satisfied with their experience with Eric. I am happy to see that he has applied for a tutorial position again this semester.

As I understand it, Eric is entirely self-supporting. While that in and of itself may not be unusual, he does so in a system and country that is not his native one. He has held a stable job for three years now as a staff member in gastronomy and takes on additional work besides, such as the previously mentioned tutorial position and secretarial support within my team as well. Eric comes from Kenya and has been in Germany since May 2008. He learned the language after arriving and contributed a social services year in a senior living center before commencing his studies. He’s also active in an association of Kenyan students in Hessen, where he served two years as the vice president and remains active.

Eric is an extremely kind, intelligent, thoughtful person. He has a way of considering the whole context and waiting in conversation, after having listened well and respectfully, considering what else has been said by others, before he makes his point. His point is always right on and helps others learn and grow. I have seen Eric speak up for himself and for others in the two years I have known him. He has intrinsic leadership qualities and helps others feel safe and cared for by his quiet, competent nature. Based on having seen him with both the tutorial team and my office team, I can say he gets along extremely well in teams and integrates beautifully with diverse groups.

The DAAD has the goal of recognizing and rewarding successful students from other countries who are not only integrating well in Germany but are making Germany better by being here and helping Germans know more about other countries and about what it means to be a human being, regardless of national background. Eric is the ideal candidate for the DAAD prize in many regards: academic scholarship, teamwork, responsibility, and generally being a role model for others in a way that lets national backgrounds and skin color differences become part of what makes people unique and have something new and beautiful to share with each other, rather than being something that drives them apart. I can completely and without reservation strongly recommend Eric Otieno for this prize.

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