Computer Science Professor Brings Decades of Life Lessons to Saint Leo
Meet Dr. Okey Igbonagwam, a Saint Leo University computer science professor who brings decades of practical experience in the field to the classroom.
Dr. Okey Igbonagwam spent three decades working in advancing roles within the computer science field. For the past 11 years, he has been able to transfer a wealth of knowledge to Saint Leo University students in a variety of technology-oriented degree programs as a computer science professor.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, he moved to the United States to attend college. He now resides in Wesley Chapel, FL with Sandy, his wife of 38 years. They are proud parents to three adult sons. Their eldest is Uzoma (meaning ‘good pat’ in English), and their twin sons are Chidozie (meaning ‘God keeps’) and Chigozie (meaning (‘God bless’), both of whom are 2018 alumni of Saint Leo University.
From an early age, Igbonagwam was always fascinated by technology. He attained a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Southern University and also took classes at nearby Louisiana State University as part of this degree program. He then went on for a master’s in information systems from Southern as well. For his doctoral work, he earned a Ph.D. in computer information systems at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
Igbonagwam launched his career with AT&T. He recalls what it took to land this entry-level job.
“I had to take an exam with 400 other students,” he explains. “Only two of us passed, including myself.”
He worked for the telecommunications giant in New Jersey for three years, starting out as a programmer and then advancing to become a network administrator.
Following a layoff, he joined Lockheed Martin in 1995 as a systems engineer. He later moved up to a senior systems engineer role. He relocated to New Orleans for this position.
In the early days of the Internet, a new opportunity then popped up for him. He moved to Atlanta to work for S1 Corporation, an early online startup that offered payment processing and other financial services. However, this was a short-lived hat for him to wear as it was during the ‘.com bubble.’
“I called up my old bosses at Lockheed Martin, and they found me a new position in Virginia,” he says. “I tell my students to be kind to all of your bosses and colleagues because you may need to lean on them for future opportunities.”
So, he then moved to the Hampton Roads area to become a product director. His final role with the company was as a technical director. He later did some work for General Dynamics as well.
During his second stint with Lockheed Martin, Igbonagwam was involved in writing the computer program ultimately used to help the military track down Osama bin Laden in 2011.
“[Osama] bin Laden was using a courier to send messages to others to stay off the grid,” he explains. “So, we had to find the location of the couriers. We modeled scenarios of how the couriers traveled.”
While working on this project, he actually met with former secretary of state Hilary Clinton and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom came to his computer lab.
“When President Obama announced that bin Laden had been killed, I realized that it was my program I had worked on years earlier that helped in the effort. It gave me such a high feeling like no other.”
Igbonagwam had an idea of going into teaching for a while.
“I knew that one day, I’d be in the classroom,” he says. “I was enjoying the opportunities I got to train and lecture.”
He started teaching as an adjunct computer science professor for DeVry University and the University of Maryland Global Campus. He then got a call from Saint Leo University in 2011 and was invited to come to University Campus for the interview.
“As soon as I walked onto the beautiful campus, I was blown away,” he recalls.
He first taught at several of the university’s locations around Virginia at the time, including centers in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and the Hampton Roads/Newport News region. He is now an assistant professor of computer science in the School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science (CARDS) and teaches at University Campus. He also instructs some online courses.
In terms of degree programs, he teaches in Saint Leo’s associate, bachelor’s, and master’s in cybersecurity; bachelor’s in computer science; bachelor’s in computer information systems (CIS); bachelor’s in software engineering; and Doctor of Business Administration degree programs. His portfolio of classes taught covers programming, cybersecurity, intelligence, machine learning, and networking.
All professors bring their own unique styles to the classroom. He outlines the dynamic he enjoys creating in each of his courses with the Socratic method in mind.
“I interact a lot with my students,” he explains. “I tell my students that I’m not the only one who is going to be talking in class. I use a Q&A format with the students, ask them follow-up questions, and try to get them to think critically.”
Preparing students for collaboration in their careers is also a critical ingredient he includes in his teaching recipe, he adds.
“I approach the classroom like teamwork in a work environment. I don’t want one student being the only one answering my questions. As for group projects, I let them choose their team lead for these types of projects, but then the students must individually present their work as part of the group project when that time comes. I like to use real-world projects and scenarios to help prepare the students for future situations in their careers.”
In addition, he does not hesitate to employ some humor in his courses to keep the students engaged.
“I don’t believe education should be a form of punishment,” he says. “I try to use humor to draw in the students to make the class come alive.”
When reviewing assignments and exams, he says that he is a reasonable grader.
“If you show me the steps to demonstrate your work, I will give you a decent grade, even if you don’t necessarily come up with the exact answer. I do this because you showed me you know what you’re doing.”
Igbonagwam brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the classroom, offering up a number of life lessons to his students.
“I tell my students that you are competing with students from other schools out in the job market, and I want you to represent Saint Leo University well. That is why I hold them accountable as much as possible.”
He says patience is a virtue.
“When I was working in the industry, I learned that you don’t always see the results of your work until later on. This is particularly true with this field.”
He stresses to his students that they must be flexible and adaptable in their careers, pointing to the numerous areas in which he has lived and visited throughout his career.
“I’ve traveled to 40 of the 50 U.S. states, most of the time for work,” he says.
Outside of teaching, he has written articles on cybersecurity, ransomware, software engineering, and is now getting deeper into machine learning in his research.
He is very involved in his church where he has served as an elder and taught Sunday school. He likes to jog four to five miles in a day and will ride his bike up to 25 miles at a time. He also enjoys lifting weights and following soccer games in the Premier League. Finally, he says family time is a top priority.
The computer science professor is grateful for all of the unique paths he has traveled, and he knows he is in the right place at this point in time to educate future generations.
“I’m a man of faith,” he says. “I go where God wants me to be. He has allowed me to get exposure to a lot of great opportunities in my life.”