Dr. Jean Phifer Oden is a respected and accomplished educator and civic activist whose career has spanned over several decades. Dr. Oden uniquely blended her husband, James Edward Oden, and her son, Eric James Oden, into her professional life. Dr. Oden started her career as a probationary teacher at Judd Elementary School. Only outstanding teachers who had completed the probation period were selected by the Judd principal to study the best educational practices to educate African-American students at the elementary level. Teachers were encouraged to attend conferences and educational experts were brought in to generate new methods of teaching. After two years, Dr. Oden left Judd on maternity leave.
Upon her return to the Chicago Public School System (Englewood Elementary School), her son Eric was transferred from a Catholic school to Wacker, an outstanding Chicago public school much like Judd. The transfer took place during the second semester of the school year and Eric’s excellent teacher noted high intelligence, but some unknown physical problem seemed to be interfering with his high accomplishments. Eric was tested by two different psychologists, and finally at 9 years old, it was determined that he needed additional educational assistance based on new research in learning disabilities (LD). Coincidentally, Dr. Oden decided to begin work on a master’s degree at Chicago State University. Because of Eric’s disability, she entered a Special Education Program regarding retardation and behavioral disorders. After meeting a new professor who set up a learning disabilities system to develop new LD teachers, Dr. Oden changed her courses and subsequently became the first LD teacher in the Chicago system.
Dr. Oden was offered a job in a suburban school system, but remained in the Chicago school system and instead selected Phillips High School, Chicago’s first high school for African-American students to offer educational assistance for students identified with LD interferences. Dr. Oden’s LD Program was so successful with students going to college that she was requested to work at Englewood High School as a special education co-chair. Again, success with LD students led to a new position at the Chicago Board of Education as a special education consultant. After her master’s degree and Certification in Advanced Studies, Dr. Oden continued to work with her husband James on community problems through their non-for-profit organization: United Neighbors Intertwined for Total Equality (UNITE). Working on social problems led to partnerships with non-profits, including the NAACP, National Urban League, Illinois Black Caucus, Coalition of Black Trade Unions, CATO Institute, Vote Smart, the League of Women Voters and the American Way. these partnerships aided in establishing community programs for dropouts and adults new to urban living and formal educational institutions.
Dr. Oden, who received her doctorate on October 21, 2015 from the National College of Education, has continued to use UNITE as a concept model in the Roseland-Pullman communities in Chicago to help and encourage others to plan their lives. As a testament to her success, she was honored with a Chicago Citizen Award in 1984 and a Certificate of Merit from the Chicago Southside NAACP in 1978. Notably, she was named a Lifetime Achiever by Marquis Who’s Who in 2017. At the age of 83, Dr. Oden is still active as a consultant and Certified Research Professor in education and social policy through the
International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, England.
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