Syracuse University Magazine

Odean Dyer


Bridging Communities

One of Odean Dyer's life-defining moments came early. "I was about 5 years old when I first saw the Brooklyn Bridge," says Dyer '10, a native of the Bronx. "It was magnificent—so big and able to hold so much weight. I watched all the cars and trucks going over it and I was in awe. How could humans make such a thing? I decided I had to learn how to do this."

By the time he reached high school, Dyer had set a goal for himself of becoming a civil engineer and to study that field at Syracuse University. But his high school guidance counselor told him he wasn't good enough for SU—that he wasn't college material. "I took it upon myself to get into SU without his recommendation," he says. "What one person says is not the final word. The person who has the final word is the one who does the work. I wanted to prove to him that he was wrong."

Dyer credits his Jamaican-born parents for his well-developed sense of self. "They have this old-school mentality that no one is going to give it to you," says Dyer, one of four children and the only son. "You have to believe in yourself if you are going to take your future to the highest heights."

He believed so strongly that Syracuse was the place for him that it was the only university he applied to—and when he was accepted to the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), he took great satisfaction in showing the acceptance letter to his guidance counselor. On a campus visit, Dyer found that the course of study at LCS wasn't the only thing that appealed to him about SU. He was impressed by the beauty and layout of the University's hilltop site, which added to his enjoyment of college life. "I like how the campus is set up," he says. "You have the Quad in the middle and when you go from class to class, you can see all your friends."

Having a social life—and a social conscience—was as important to Dyer as doing well in the rigorous civil engineering program. In his sophomore year, a brainstorming session he had with Paul Buckley, then-associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, led to the establishment of the Multicultural Empowerment Network (M.E.N.). "The goal of M.E.N. is to increase the awareness of multicultural males, to raise our visibility in the community," Dyer says. "We need to be doers, not just talkers, and to become more involved in social issues both on and off campus." 

The group has developed a service-focused relationship with the Alliances of Communities Transforming Syracuse, volunteering in soup kitchens, and serving as mentors and tutors for schoolchildren, among other socially oriented activities. For his work with the group and other organizations, Dyer received a 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Award from the University. "When I realized the full magnitude of what the award was, what it meant, I was taken aback," he says. "I was doing things because I believed in them, not thinking I would be getting accolades for it. The award meant a lot to me, but it's not the reason why I got involved. Although now it makes me want to push harder—knowing there are people out there seeing what I do and noticing the good work I'm trying to accomplish. It was really big."

With Commencement behind him, Dyer plans to work for a few years, then earn a master's degree and a Professional Engineering license, with the goal of owning his own company. "Engineering is my passion," he says. "To see my name on a building—or even just to know I was part of the design of a structure—would be the ultimate feeling for me." —Paula Meseroll

Photo by Joe Lawton