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The Family That Studies Together Succeeds Together

A family attends MCTC together and celebrates togetherThis May, a family of MCTC students is proving that the family that studies together succeeds together.

On May 20, Awoussi Koussandja and her daughter Etonam (Fanny) Okaikue-Woodi will walk across the stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center to receive their MCTC diplomas. Sandra Okaikue-Woodi, Fanny’s sister and Awoussi’s younger daughter, just completed her Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) studies at MCTC and will cross the stage for St. Anthony Village High School in June.

Awoussi, Fanny and Sandra arrived in the U.S. from Togo in 2009, joining Awoussi’s husband—Fanny and Sandra’s father—who had been living here since 2002. Fanny had one year left of high school, and when it came time to choose a college, her mother realized this might be an opportunity for herself as well. “We chose MCTC because it had a great reputation for diversity and because we knew it would be easy to get there from St. Anthony Village,” said Awoussi. “We were so happy to start school here and meet people from all over Africa—from Cameroon, Kenya, the Congo, Somalia, the Ivory Coast, Guinea and others.”

Making the most of their time at MCTC

Awoussi is graduating with an associate’s degree in human services. While at MCTC, she was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honors society, the French Club and TRIO Starting Point, where she also volunteered as a peer mentor. Awoussi also completed her human services internship during her last semester, working with the immigrant and refugee resettlement program at Lutheran Social Services. “I believe, as a fellow immigrant who speaks another language fluently, I work well with many of the people who are just coming to this country,” said Awoussi. “I know it can be hard, and it really is hard. But the struggle is important. The best thing coming to the U.S. and studying at MCTC taught me is to push myself. I learned I really can do it.”

Now Awoussi begins her job search. “I’m looking for something in my field, although my end goal is not just a job,” she said. “I want to go on to get my bachelor’s degree, and then my master’s.”

Fanny is well-known among her MCTC peers. Also a member of Phi Theta Kappa and TRIO Starting Point, Fanny joined the Minnesota North Star STEM Alliance, received the Minnesota High Tech Association Foundation Scholarship, became a member of the All-State Academic Team in April 2013 and was recently featured by TRIO Starting Point for her successes. She will receive her associate’s degree in mathematics on May 20, spend the summer working on a research project at Cornell University and start her studies in civil engineering at the University of Minnesota in the fall.

As hard as it might feel to fill shoes as big as Awoussi and Fanny’s, Sandra is keeping pace with her family. During her time at MCTC, she attended high school classes in the mornings, commuted to MCTC for her PSEO classes in the afternoon, and often returned to high school afterward for tennis practice. In addition to her balance of schoolwork, Sandra also volunteered several times a week. “Juggling high school and college is not easy,” said Sandra’s sister Fanny. “I don’t think I could have done what she’s doing.”

“I told her she’s too young to be working as hard as she was, but she insisted,” said Sandra’s mother Awoussi. “I’m so proud of both my daughters. Even though they have busy schedules, they handled them well and kept great GPAs. What more could a parent ask for?”

“Coming to MCTC for PSEO was such a different experience than what I did in high school,” said Sandra. “It taught me a lot about what college is like.” Sandra starts college at the University of Minnesota in the fall, where she plans to study biology.

Looking ahead

Reflecting on their years at MCTC, Awoussi, Fanny and Sandra thank each other and their mentors for their success. “The teachers at MCTC are very helpful,” said Awoussi. “They take the time to see things from our perspective, and they really care about your life experiences. I am so appreciative of this.”

“I’m excited about what’s ahead,” said Fanny. “I ask myself what my experience would have been like if I had started out at the University of Minnesota three years ago. I doubt I would have gotten all the personal attention I got here. I know MCTC was the right choice for me.”

May 20 is a particularly special day for Fanny. In addition to celebrating her graduation from MCTC, May 20 is also her 21st birthday.

Awoussi, Fanny and Sandra will take their next step into the future together. After all, the family that studies together succeeds together.

Update:  Fanny was accepted to the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She began her coursework the fall semester following her graduation from MCTC!

Published May 2013

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