McKendree University senior Kenny O’Dell Jr., of Carlyle, didn’t come to school with plans to get through it as fast as he could and move on with life.
He wanted to experience every bit of college life that he could when he arrived on the Lebanon campus in the fall of 2012.
It wasn’t enough to study pre-med and chemistry with plans to eventually become a doctor specializing in orthopedics. He decided to become more well-rounded by getting minors in biology, sociology and creative writing. He also signed up to be a member of the school’s fencing team.
“I figured that, instead of hoping to someday find the time to do some of these things that I might as well do them now,” O’Dell said. “If the opportunity is in front of you, that’s the time to go for it.”
Alan Alewine, associate dean for curriculum and professor of mathematics at McKendree, said he is impressed with O’Dell’s appetite to learn.
“He possesses a natural aptitude for abstract thinking as well as self-discipline and an intense work ethic,” Alewine said. “He is eager to discuss with faculty scholars a wide variety of topics including pharmacology, literature and theology. He clearly understands the power of lifelong learning.”
While chemistry and sociology can be complimentary to a career in medicine, O’Dell said he took up creative writing because he often thinks up stories in his head that he wanted to commit to paper.
“But it turned out that creative writing worked to bring everything else together,” O’Dell said. “It helps me to bring concepts together in my other studies.”
His father, Kenneth O’Dell Sr., died suddenly in 2013. But O’Dell said the tragedy served less as a distraction to his studies than a driving force to propel him to be successful in school.
“I learned so much from my dad when I was young,” O’Dell said. “He was the one who took me into the woods to show me all the different kinds of snakes and other things like that. He was the one who taught me about electrons.”
Those earlier experiences filled O’Dell with curiosity and a hunger to learn.
Joining the fencing team was something that gave O’Dell an opportunity to travel across the country.
He said one of his most vivid college memories is going to a fencing tournament in a huge arena at Ohio State University.
O’Dell said one of the reasons he wanted to go to McKendree was because of the school’s small class sizes. But that was taken to extremes when he signed up for a physical science course only to learn that he’d be the only person in attendance.
“It’s definitely unique,” O’Dell said. “It’s tough to do some of the experiments because you could use an extra pair of hands. But I definitely get plenty of attention from the instructor.”
Q: How did you manage to make it through school when your dad passed away?
A: “When he died I didn’t take it as a time to waver. I took it as a time to work harder. That’s what he would have wanted.”
Q: What made you decide to join the fencing team?
A: “I heard we were getting a team my sophomore year. When I was a kid I would pretend to have sword fights with a stick. So it sounded interesting. I went and tried it then joined a club in Millstadt to get up to speed. I’m going to take a break from it this semester. But I’ll probably join a club after school is over.”
Q: If you like to hunt and trap, does that mean you have a coon skin hat?
A: “Of course. I made my own Daniel Boone hat. You have to do that.”
Q: What made you want to become a doctor?
A: “Going back to first grade, I always said I was going to be a doctor. But when I was in grade school my dad had quadruple bypass surgery and I remember I was fascinated when he told me how they did that.”
About Kenny O’Dell
- School: Senior at McKendree University
- Age: 21
- Major: Pre-med, hopes to become an orthopedist. He hasn’t decided yet where he will attend medical school.
- Hobbies: Fencing and live trapping animals, especially racoons and beavers. He also plays the piano for stress relief.
- Parents: Kenneth O’Dell, Sr., who passed away in 2013, and Chong O’Dell of Carlyle
- Other interests: O’Dell is learning to speak Japanese and Korean.
- Awards: In November, O’Dell was named McKendree’s Lincoln Laureate. He’s vice president of the school’s Phi Kappa Phi honors society chapter.