Obum Gwacham is known for a radiant smile, an engaging personality and a mesmerizing combination of size and athleticism, but if there’s one word that best describes the 2014 College of Business graduate and four-year football letterman, it might be discipline.
“From grade school through college, Obum never missed a day of school,” said professional development instructor Gene Young. “And he broke his collarbone playing football and still didn’t miss school – that’s how disciplined he is.”
Gwacham’s parents, Edwin and Caroline, helped instill that drive and tenacity, along with kindness, cheerfulness and resilience, in Obum and his four siblings, whom they brought to America from their native Nigeria when Obum was 7.
Winners in a visa lottery, the Gwachams moved to Southern California, where Caroline’s sister lived, and settled in Chino Hills. Sports were one of Obum’s points of entry into his new culture – soccer, basketball, track and field, and, when he entered Ayala High School, football.
Lettering four times in track – he became one of California’s top athletes in the long, high and triple jumps – and twice in football as a wide receiver, the 6-foot-5 Gwacham had little trouble deciding where the next stop on his educational and athletic journey would be.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “Everyone I met in the College of Business and in Corvallis was so welcoming.”
Helping steer Gwacham to the COB were a pair of older teammates on the Beaver football team, Cameron Collins and Brandon Hardin.
“I knew how much they enjoyed it, how challenging and how rewarding it was,” Gwacham said. “The classes were obviously tough, but they told me I could get through it, and I knew how they excelled on the football field and at everything, so I figured I might as well give it a shot.”
While Gwacham couldn’t parlay his skill set into success at receiver – he moved to defensive end after his junior season – he had no trouble using his intelligence, drive and disposition to shine as a student.
“I’d adopt Obum if I could,” joked Young, who was struck by Gwacham’s ability to absorb class material and then quickly put the lessons into practice. “I’d tell Obum something, and he just got it.”
And one lesson from his university experience that Gwacham particularly took to heart was the importance of being involved on campus.
“For me it started with joining the Student Athlete Advisory Committee,” he said. “Doing that one thing got me interested to do more.”
He joined the Marketing Club and ran for a leadership role, media specialist. And then Stephen Lawton, professor emeritus of international business, nominated him for the DSLC.
“It was a slam-dunk for me,” Lawton said. “His smile engages you, he’s got a wonderful personality, he’s a very good listener and a good communicator. And he was just a natural leader in our dean’s circle; he did just what I thought he would do. He jumped in and contributed, was engaged, got involved, helped push the train up the hill.”
Gwacham, whose degree is in marketing, notes how “it all started because I took that shot at joining different clubs, doing different things. I try to tell a lot of our guys on the football team to do things like that because you never know who you’re going to meet or the opportunities that will be created.”
And the College of Business’ new home, Austin Hall, is itself a game-changer, Gwacham said.
“Unfortunately for me I could only spend fall in there, but I made sure to utilize it as much as I could,” he said. “It’s a great building. It’s always clean; students respect the building and take care of it. In another year or two, and for that first fall alone, I think a lot of students will say it made a huge difference in the way they learn and the way they study.”
Gwacham’s one term in Austin Hall and final OSU football season ended with Pacific 12 Conference all-academic first-team. And as he pursues a career in the National Football League – his athletic potential, plus a solid effort in his one year as a defensive end, put that dream within reach – thoughts of the College of Business are never far away.