Award Recognizes Tayo Oyedeji’s Outstanding Research and Leadership Potential
Columbia, Mo. (March 14, 2007) — Tayo Oyedeji, a second-year doctoral student at the Missouri School of Journalism, has been named a prestigious Harvey Fellow by the Mustard Seed Foundation based in Arlington, Va. The Foundation is a Christian organization that encourages graduate students in premier educational and research programs to pursue leadership positions in strategic fields where Christians tend to be under-represented.
Oyedeji is the first University of Missouri-Columbia student to receive the award and only the second recipient from the Big 12 Conference. As a Harvey Fellow, Oyedeji will receive a $15,000 stipend applicable to educational expenses during the final year of his doctoral program. He plans to graduate in December 2007.
The Harvey Fellows, established in 1992, is a highly selective program. Applicants must attend schools considered to be among the top five in the world in specialty fields such as media, government, scientific research and higher education. Fellows also must demonstrate accomplished academic leadership within their discipline and have the capability to affect their field through research or other scholarly work.
“Tayo is accomplishment and potential personified,” said Stephanie Craft, associate professor of journalism studies and chair of Oyedeji’s doctoral committee. “He is a diligent, productive and creative researcher with a number of conference papers and, recently, a sole-authored publication to his credit. Working with him is a pleasure.”
Oyedeji is one of fewer than five Harvey Fellows who have specialized in journalism, media or other communications-related fields. Of the more than 200 Harvey Fellows alumni, many come from Ivy League or other private institutions, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Northwestern, Duke and Columbia.
Oyedeji said he is grateful for the scholarship because it will allow him to focus on writing his dissertation instead of rushing out to find a job. For his dissertation, he is developing the “Credible Brand Theory,” one that combines marketing, psychology and journalism to explain how media organizations brand their products and how audiences react to them.
“The concept is that news is not just a commodity,” Oyedeji said. “People don’t say ‘Well, it’s news, it’s good enough.’ Audiences react to news products the same way they react to shoes and bags and other consumer products. So a news story from CNNwill probably have more value than a similar story from an unknown brand.”
Oyedeji said that in addition to branding, personal ideology plays a large part in consumption of media.
“The amount of agreement between the worldview of news audiences and that of news outlets also comes into play,” Oyedeji said. “So, it’s not just about the strength of the news brand; audiences’ ideological congruency with the brand also affects credibility.”
Such research could have a significant impact on the media industry, one of the reasons why Oyedeji was chosen as a Fellow.
“It helps us better understand how people process news,” he said. “And if we understand that, we can create better news products for specific people and help them become more connected in civic life. News organizations can become more profitable while fulfilling their duty to the people.”
Craft said that Oyedeji’s research and the way he conducts it are both refreshing.
“His dissertation topic brings a fresh approach to news credibility, one of the most-studied phenomena in mass communication,” Craft said. “The icing on the cake is that Tayo is such a great research colleague. He really enjoys mulling over ideas and discussing ways to address research questions.”
Oyedeji’s road to becoming one of the country’s most promising journalism scholars began in the most unlikely way: with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Ilorin in his native Nigeria. There, high-ability students were tracked into hard science fields, not the social sciences. But Oyedeji had a passion for media, so he worked in broadcasting and advertising in Nigeria for four years before pursuing his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Oklahoma.
In 2005, he began his doctoral work at the School. He said he chose Missouri because of its reputation for consistent academic success.
“I knew it was a good program, and I knew I could work with some of the best in the field,” Oyedeji said. “Now I work with Dr. (Esther) Thorson, Dr. (Wayne) Wanta and others. Those are some of the most respected names in the journalism academic world.”
While Oyedeji said it is an honor to work with Missouri’s outstanding doctoral faculty, Betty Winfield, professor of journalism studies, said it is an honor to work with such a phenomenal student.
“We get a lot of fantastic Ph.D. students here,” Winfield said. “Some are good students who work hard, others are brilliant scholars, some are curious researchers, and some take everything they can from this program. Tayo does all of that.”
Oyedeji has won three top paper awards at conferences for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the International Communication Association, the leading organizations for academic media research. He made five conference presentations in 2006 and has had his article, “The Relationship between the Brand Equity and Media Credibility of Media Outlets,” accepted for publication by the International Journal on Media Management.
According to several of his professors, Oyedeji’s research production is outstanding.
“He has demonstrated an incredible ability to conduct excellent research,” said Wayne Wanta, professor of journalism studies and doctoral committee member. “His research is well beyond what a typical graduate student would be expected to do.”
While Oyedeji’s immediate goal is to finish his dissertation, he has big plans for the future.
“Personally, I hope to consult with the United Nations on creating advertising and health communication for AIDS awareness in Africa,” Oyedeji said. “I’m working on developing a program of persuasive communication that’s created by Africans for Africa. One of the problems is the assumption that people are the same everywhere. Communication created for AIDS from the West is often not effective in Africa because of differences in culture.”
Winfield said she would not be surprised to see Oyedeji directing the United Nations in a few years.
“He’s on a trajectory that is just amazing,” Winfield said.