Odyssey of the Mind: UWG Alum’s Quest for Knowledge Crosses Generations

Julie Lineback

Friday, August 27th, 2021

Answer: This educational nonprofit in Atlanta – led by a University of West Georgia alumnus – recently received more than $200,000 in donations while featured on “Jeopardy!”

Question: What is Odyssey Atlanta?

When Ronald Bastien ’17 ’19 first arrived at UWG, he admittedly wasn’t the most prepared student.

But today, through his role as Odyssey’s senior program director and director of daily operations, he helps ensure future generations are instilled with a quest for knowledge on a journey toward higher education. 

Odyssey Atlanta is a six-week summer enrichment program – think of a cross between summer camp and summer school – that serves first- through 12th-grade students. Its purpose is to close the gap between resources and opportunities with students in communities across Atlanta.

“Our idea is to help students who may otherwise be overlooked – because they are not overly excelling, but they are also not failing – and give them an opportunity to get to that level and prepare them for college,” Bastien explained. 

Odyssey Atlanta, which serves roughly 400 students every summer, recently received national attention when CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta named it his charity of choice for his stint as guest host of “Jeopardy!”.

“We’re a tuition-free program,” Bastien said. “The only fee parents pay is $35, and that covers lunch, transportation and college tours. So when you have more money coming in, it makes it more manageable for Odyssey to give our students the experiences we provide.”

Bastien said he gained the skills and abilities he uses in his work through his history degrees from UWG, as well as his desire to be a teacher.

“I’d taken several classes and got Bs on my work, but I wanted to be an A student. I wanted my work to reflect the effort that I was putting in. The professors were always there to help. It really taught me that if you put in the work, you'll get what you deserve.” 

It paid off. Before he received his bachelor’s degree, one of his senior seminar assignments was selected as the best paper at the 2017 UWG Undergraduate Research Conference.

“It felt great,” Bastien said of the achievement. “The professors asked if I’d considered graduate school. It wasn’t something I wanted to do right away, but after talking with Dr. [Stephanie] Chalifoux and Dr. [Ann] McCleary, it reiterated the fact that UWG was where I wanted to continue my studies. Why wait?”

In 2019, he received his Master of Arts in History and spent the next two years working for Atlanta Public Schools before moving on to his current role at Odyssey Atlanta.

“I conducted a lot of research in the communities we serve in order to understand the historical significance of the economic situation and the educational barriers they face,” he stated. “I’m able to use the historical data and trends to help me understand how to better serve the students we’re recruiting from these areas.”

Bastien, whose next step is earning his doctorate degree, is planning to continue his quest for knowledge alongside his students.

“UWG is an excellent university,” he concluded. “It's big enough so that you get that full college experience but small enough that if you put in the effort and show the professors you want to be there, they will know you by name. UWG will always have a place in my heart. It helped me become the professional and the man I am today.”