Math professors remember Kenyan student as inquisitive learner


Photo by Kat Owens

Young Hall, home of the School of Sciences at Lindenwood.

Matt Hampton, Editor-in-chief

A Lindenwood University student from Kenya recently passed away off campus, according to an email Dean of Students Shane Williamson sent out to the university Wednesday, Feb. 26.

The student, Leon M. Ong’ara, was a senior majoring in mathematics with an emphasis in actuarial mathematics.  Some of his professors remembered him as a student who was outspoken about asking questions in class to fully understand the material.  

Wojciech Golik, an actuarial math professor, said his students benefited from Ong’ara’s participation.

“It was a pleasure to have him in class, and of course, very unfortunate what happened to him, and we are all very sad and sorry for his family to suffer such a loss,” Golik said. “We feel that loss ourselves.”

He said Ong’ara had “quick insights” about the material, even though his classes covered complicated topics. Ong’ara was planning to be an actuary, an occupation in insurance or finance dealing with financial risk.  

Ong’ara’s advisor, Nick Wintz, also remembered him for being uniquely curious and inquisitive. Wintz said that Ong’ara was always willing to ask more questions, instead of just listening to the lecture.  

“Leon was always somebody who was willing to say ‘OK, well, how did you get there?’” he said. 

Wintz said Ong’ara was interested in solving mathematical puzzles.  He also described him as quiet and laid-back.  

Ong’ara had transferred from Lindenwood to St. Charles Community College, and then back to Lindenwood to finish his degree, Wintz said.  

A news site covering the Kenyan diaspora reported on Feb. 27 that Ong’ara was 25 years old. His funeral was held Feb. 29 at Archway Memorial Chapel in Hazelwood, Missouri, as well as a fundraiser to help cover the expenses of sending his body to Kenya. 

The expenses of the funeral and travel are $15,148, according to the news site.

He will be awarded a posthumous bachelor of arts degree in mathematics at the spring commencement ceremony, according to Williamson’s email.

“Those who feel they need grief counseling are encouraged to call 636-949-4522 or email [email protected] to set up an appointment with a counselor,” the email said.

This is a developing story, and it will be updated with more information.