Conversation with Jane Hodges

…Americans are not loved worldwide. If we understood other cultures, I don’t think our foreign policy would be as misinterpreted as it presently is. – Hodges

“I don’t have silver or gold to give you but in my daily prayers I will always remember you…. In fact, you are the instrument God used to lift me up.” Does that sound familiar? Sure, it is a cliché! But do not think that I lifted that passage from the Gospel. Did I say they are not my words? Njoku, a teacher in the Niger-Delta, speaks in a letter to Jane Hodges.

I first met Jane in one of the theme parks in Orlando, Florida. It was a typical sunny day, one of the harbingers of summer. She was brightly hued, clad in a distinct sleeveless shirt and a precise, smartly cut short. In one word, she was casual but immaculate and, in every ramification, she was the true American full of life: basking in the sun, drinking effortlessly the fun gushing out of nature. One is likely going to regard her with some nonchalance; at least, I did until she singled me out as a Nigerian.

I didn’t know my Nigerian-ness was obvious. “It is the way you speak. It sounded familiar.” Curiosity almost swallowed me. Beyond my expectations, this seemingly simple lady, with the air of a homemaker, turned out to be an enigma I needed to unravel. Thus, with Jane on my mind, I made my way to Titusville, where she lives, one cloudy Sunday morning.

Dr. Jane Hodges had lived in Port Harcourt. Her sojourn, though, was a mission: ” introducing space science technology to teachers and administrators in Nigeria [especially in the Niger-Delta]” That makes her relevant. And for the many Njokus, whose lives she touched, she remains the personification of hope. However, that is not the absolute reason I find her puzzling. It was her accomplishment in life: her resume, which I found on her website, reads like a textbook!

In our conversation, she gives an insight into her life, her motivations and experiences in Nigeria.

  • I want to say that I find your credentials intimidating, but you are not. Tell me the effect this has on people when they finally reconcile your achievements with Jane.

    I suppose degrees do impress some people; however, I have only been updating my qualifications to meet the needs of the current job market. I think we all learn in different ways. I was educated in a structured environment and, I feel I learn best when instruction is developmental.

    6 degrees in about 30 years, that is a lot of time to spend in the classroom. What exactly do you find attractive about the four walls of a place of learning?

    A college classroom is designed to start at the beginning and follow you through a subject so with the need to learn a new career (management/technology) I found this the easiest most efficient way to learn. Most people in professional positions take in-service training or other seminars but I found this too disjointed and confusing.

    Every time you earned an academic laurel I want to believe that you saw yourself in another light; a better human being perhaps. Tell me what this does to your ego/psyche.

    Each time I earned a new degree I believe I possessed a few more skills to better live in the world. The job is only a part of one’s life and I think education helps one understand the big picture and see the world as a whole.

    Is this what motivates you or there is something intrinsically connected to your past, probably while growing up. Tell me the role(s) of your parents in this life you now lead.

    My mother died ten years ago but my father is over eighty and active. He’s had a very keen mind and he is actively engaged in financial investments; he taught me the value of money. He always valued education, too, so it was never a question that I pursue higher education. I think he’s proud of my accomplishments and the ability I have to interact freely around the world

    You have been to some 60 countries, according to your resume, propagating space education primarily. From your own perception what lies behind the skies we must try to conquer beyond the space communities and the satellites stationed in the atmosphere worth billions of dollars? Isn’t the Earth enough for humanity to satisfy man’s curiosity? I want to believe that your years of sojourn in foreign lands must have done something to you as a person. Give me an insight into Jane’s metamorphosis.

    I’ve traveled to over 60 countries mainly to learn about their cultures and peoples. If I knew what a cultural anthropologist was in my early years, I would have pursued this profession; Margaret Mead, Jane Goodall, Madeline Albright-these are the women I admire. I was given much on these trips and wanted to share what I knew. I always shared my many teacher activity books, space being but one. But I found children worldwide are interested in space, so it appears this is what I knew and shared the most.

    My travels in foreign lands have definitely done much to influence my perceptions of the world. As we are now seeing, Americans are not loved worldwide. If we knew, understood and appreciated other cultures, religions and people, I don’t think our foreign policy would be as misinterpreted as it presently is. I go to see, not to impose my culture, attitudes and beliefs on others. This was one of the most memorable quotes from a professor I had in India. He further stated you will be very disappointed if you expect to find things as you did at home in the US.

    Describe your personal encounters in Nigeria that remain evergreen in your memory. Reading the Star-Advocate’s report on your Nigerian trip, an uneasy impression came upon me. Is the report an actual indication of life in Nigeria or in the Niger-Delta? Are you saying that in spite of the wealth that springs from the bowels of the communities in the Niger-Delta not much is being given to them in return?

    My personal encounters in Nigeria were very positive with the local teachers, students and villagers. I empathized with the teachers who had a tremendous challenge to teach huge classes with almost no materials. They were always gracious and appreciative of my efforts.

    In spite of the wealth that springs from the remote oil producing communities, the people in the field see very little of it. I met Dave Hutton, Head of Planning and Production of SPDC, who shared some facts with me. ½ million barrels a day are produced in the Niger Delta from oil production; which is about $30 million per day. SPDC, as other companies, only get 10% and the rest goes to the Nigerian government. Some of the money goes to the communities, for example Shell sponsored 40 schools in the Niger Delta I visited every one and know a great deal still needs to be accomplished. It’s my hope developmental organizations will help support our efforts to better the conditions in these communities.

    I spent a year of my life in Nigeria, but was always interested in working for USAID, UNICEF or other developmental organizations. A friend I grew up with is now a Foreign Service director and encouraged me to pursue this career based on my volunteer efforts worldwide. All Peace Corps officials require fieldwork before assuming administrative positions, so I knew this was necessary. The opportunity arose at a critical time in my life to join the IFESH Educators for Africa, so I accepted. I believe God has plans for our lives and we are to respond and offer our best efforts.

    I wonder why you seem to be devoting so much time to Nigeria, you even have a site on her. Why are you so drawn to the country? You see her as a Mission Impossible or she is the land where your dreams have become real in whatever terms dear to you?

    So many people wanted and needed my help in Nigeria. As a result, I thought the best way to channel information to them was through a website. Not only are possible grant donors listed, anyone interested in the country can read my accounts. Teachers on both sides of the ocean can see that science and technology have universal languages; therefore, they can use the lesson plans we developed.

    I have two examples of lives that have drastically changed as a result. My company published Njoku’s science textbook and you can see from his comments it meant so much to him, his family and students and community. Jacque Okere, another Nigerian who is now a student at the University of Miami, took advantage of my technology training, learning about NASA internships and received the SLSTP at Kennedy Space Center- her story is also on the website. I hope that others who are interested in Nigeria will use the website, sponsor a textbook, or help seek funding to implement the knowledge that can be gained from learning about Nigeria. After it is a required subject in American schools, this site will be a first hand-not textbook-account with up-to-date links.

    Beyond education and space, I see that you have interests in other areas of human endeavors: a dive master with 6 specialty certifications, certified financial planner, certified genealogist! What do you consider enough when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge?

    My interests are broad-based and I’ve moved on to other technology-based projects, such as the Mayan Rainforest curriculum and My ABCs around the World. Teachers have become inspired to travel as a result of my sharing these experiences. The ocean is another world to be explored and, again, I feel SCUBA diving is a dangerous sport and should not be taken lightly. Proper instruction makes me feel more comfortable. I’ve coordinated training for all my NASA interns and visiting faculty last year to learn SCUBA so they could visit the Scott Carpenter Underwater sea lab and see NASA plant biology experiences in the underwater research labs in the Keys.

    I’m also interested in my family heritage and have explored my roots on both sides of the family. I recently discovered the ancestral church in Middlewich England dating back to the 1600s.

    As Jane, are you satisfied with yourself now or do you still think there are some territories out there you are still to master?

    What do I want to do now? I hope to work in federal government, hopefully in developmental organization such as USAID or the Department of State.



Go to Jane Hodges’ WEBSITE

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