Student’s long journey leads to the UTSA Libraries

Sep 30, 2013

By Stephanie Sanchez, Senior Communications Specialist

Omolara-Jara “Lara” Lawal

Omolara-Jara “Lara” Lawal stands tall as she grips two orange and clear tumblers; her long blue work uniform sweater is worn over a trendy camouflage shirt and skinny jeans.

“What’s the secret phrase?” she says with a smile when a college-aged woman approaches her. The woman answers and Lawal, a student worker with The University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries who regularly participates in activities to engage students with the library, hands her one of the cups.

Shortly later, Lawal scrolls through her phone. When she finally looks up, in a Nigerian accent, she says, “You’ve got to stay in San Antonio and focus on school.”

She’s jokingly mimicking her father who was born and raised in Nigeria.

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Lawal, who was born in Houston, is a business finance senior. Her journey to get here has been long and tragic.

When she was 4 years old, Lawal’s mother died of Leukemia. Soon after, her father sent her and three brothers to live in Nigeria with an uncle and aunt. Her oldest brother stayed in Houston with her father.

“I don’t think he was overburdened but I think it would have been a lot to take care of five kids,” she says.

During her time in Nigeria, she learned to speak her father’s native language, Yoruba, as well as some French. She also assimilated to the region’s strict cultural norms.

“There is a lot of discipline in Nigeria,” she says.

After skipping the fifth and sixth grades, Lawal returned to Houston at age 10.

“I was teased a little,” she says. “You know kids, when they see someone they’re not used to seeing.”

Lawal, though, found her own world in the library.

“I love to read,” she gushes.

When she started at UTSA, she says she frequently visited the John Peace Library. When she saw the library had an opening for a peer coach — student workers trained to help other students with library-related inquires — she jumped at the opportunity.

Lawal says her job is exciting and rewarding because students are always thankful for assistance.Tyler Dunn, a library assistant who supervises the peer coaches, said Lawal is always very helpful to students.

“Lara’s outgoing personality and leadership skills make her very effective at sharing her library know-how with other students,” Dunn said.

Lawal said she enjoys helping others at the Libraries, and hopes to build on her skills by working for Teach for America after she graduates.

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When Lawal finishes kindheartedly mocking her father, she says, “I miss my family. … I know my dad always wants what is best for me.”

Alice Frederick, student assistant, contributed to this story.