Class of 2015 Success Stories: An Educational Journey

From the Ivory Coast to BGSU Firelands

Class of 2015 Success Stories: An Educational Journey

By Dean Schnurr

Rokya Miller earned an associate degree in business management from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, a bachelor’s degree in business and communication from Pigier Ivory Coast, and a master’s degree in marketing from Pigier Ivory Coast—schools in Africa. 

She had applied herself, worked hard and earned outstanding grades. She was moving to the United States and felt that she was well prepared for the workforce. The reality of her situation was much different.

Miller was born in Ivory Coast into a family of eight siblings. Due to the size of the family, her half sister Jeannette, who Miller respectfully calls “Aunty,” raised her.

“Aunty” was an educated and driven woman. She worked for Nestle in Africa and was determined to ensure that Miller earned a quality education.

“’It is only through school that you can be someone ‘Aunty’ would tell me,” said Miller, who speaks three languages. “If she caught me playing, she would scold me and tell me I should have a book in my hand.”

“Aunty’s” influence was successful and Miller excelled in school.  She continued her education and the two of them agreed on the field of business due to the high demand for graduates in that sector. Miller enrolled in a college-level business program.

“College was very challenging. Teachers are considered the authority and they were not approachable. The school system did not make earning a degree easy,” she said.

Regardless, Miller continued to excel and eventually earned the African equivalent of a master’s degree in marketing.

While in college, she also met her future husband, Donald Miller. He was from the United States, but was in Ivory Coast on business. Their relationship flourished and they married after she finished her master’s degree. They moved to the United States shortly thereafter.

According to Miller, she was excited about moving and the employment opportunities that would be available for a person with a master’s degree in business. She quickly found that the job market was not as welcoming as she expected.

“I wasn’t fluent in English and the education I received in Africa was not valued,” she explained.  “I was upset. I had a master’s degree and I was ready to work.”

She managed to secure a few jobs, but they were menial labor and that was not what she had studied so hard to achieve. It was clear that she must return to school.

“I decided that the only way to enter the job market was to earn an American degree. I knew it would be challenging, but I could earn a degree that had value and improve my English skills too.”

Living near BGSU Firelands made selecting a college simple. Firelands was close to home and very affordable. She enrolled and decided to make a dramatic change in her career path, working toward a degree in nursing.

As a young girl, Miller had a passion for science, especially biology, and she wanted to get back into the field. It was also one in high demand in the community.

Miller found college in the United States much different than Africa. She found that instructors wanted to help students succeed.

“The instructors at BGSU Firelands explained things simply, and are concerned about each and every student. They are all so friendly," she added.

Miller developed close, personal relationships with several of the faculty and staff at the College. One faculty member that was particularly helpful was Elsy Thomas Kizhakethalackal, an assistant professor of economics at BGSU Firelands, known affectionately as Dr. K. 

Rokya's greatest strength lies in always putting her best foot forward no matter what the odds. She has transformed every obstacle into an opportunity and strived to do her best in reaching her goals. She never gives up,” said Kizhakethalackal.

Despite her struggles, Miller excelled in her education, just as she had always done. She was able to maintain a 3.7 grade point average and will graduate with an associate degree in science.

She plans on continuing her education at BGSU Firelands and will immediately begin working toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Ultimately her goal is to blend her education in business from Africa and her nursing degree from the United States to become a public health administrator.

“I want to be able to give back to the community here in the United States, but I would also like to open a medical clinic in Africa to provide aid to children and families.”

“I’m certain she will reach her goals. Rokya’s hardworking and meticulous nature will bring her great success in all areas of her life,” said Kizhakethalackal.