by Bobbin Wages
Upcoming B.B.A. graduate Nelly Ouedraogo was a terrible high school student in Burkina Faso, but once she enrolled in college in the United States, something changed.
In her hometown of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Nelly Ouedraogo admits she performed terribly in school. Having grown up in a comfortable middle class home, she assumed an education could be obtained easily by anyone. She skipped class, slept too much, and barely passed high school. However, when Nelly’s parents sent her to New Jersey to attend Essex County College, her attitude changed. As part of her English language coursework, Nelly researched her own country and discovered that, at the time, around only 20 percent of Burkina Faso’s population was formally educated. Soon afterwards, she received the first tuition bill that her parents would foot. The realization of her family’s sacrifices punched her in the stomach, and she instantly shifted gears toward academic excellence.
After completing her associate’s degree in business administration, Nelly enrolled at Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business, where she will finish her B.B.A. in accounting and managerial sciences in May. Her stellar GPA qualified her for Robinson’s Honors Program, which exposed her to networking opportunities that helped her overcome her shyness. (When people had difficulty understanding her English, she feared looking “dumb” and therefore spoke as infrequently as possible.) Marta S. White, a clinical associate professor of managerial sciences and director of the Honors Program, encouraged Nelly to carry herself with confidence. “Dr. White said, ‘Even if English is your second language, you have to talk,’” she recalls.
Through the Honors Program, Nelly secured a mentorship with Carlos Pagoaga, group director of partnerships with The Coca-Cola Company. During their monthly meetings, the duo focused on sharpening Nelly’s leadership skills and discussing strategies for running a nonprofit. She plans to start an organization in Burkina Faso that will aid young women in their pursuit of an education. Nelly also wrote a business plan for the nonprofit as part of Clifton “Buddy” Ray’s Entrepreneurship and New Venture Management (MGS 4500) course. “I loved that class because I learned everything about starting a business,” Nelly says.
Nelly’s greatest preparation for starting a nonprofit occurred during her summer 2015 internship on the economic empowerment team at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global organization that supports people devastated by conflict and disaster. Based in the IRC’s Atlanta office, Nelly worked with refugees on achieving economic self-sufficiency, most often through assistance with finding job opportunities, grooming their resumes, and preparing for interviews. In addition to performing her duties as an intern, Nelly paid attention to how the IRC raises and allocates funds, and operates in general.
Because Nelly struggled when she first moved to the United States, she made a perfect candidate for the Global Ambassador Program (GAP) offered through Georgia State’s Office of International Initiatives. As part of the university’s Summer Institute, GAP members serve as cultural liaisons for international students studying abroad at Georgia State. “We showed them around Atlanta, let them know how life works here, and even invited them to our homes,” Nelly says.
Despite her parents’ financial assistance, Nelly has covered as many expenses as possible throughout college. In addition to receiving the Zera-Allen Scholarship, the Lori Muse Study Abroad Scholarship, the International Education Fee Study Abroad Scholarship and the Mills B. Lane/Bank of America Scholarship, she works part-time for Georgia State’s Auxiliary and Support Services as a parking attendant, a job she is surprised to enjoy.
Nelly gets emotional when she talks about her parents’ commitment to providing for her and her two siblings. Her mother, first a French teacher and later a business owner, often left early and came home late. She tears up when she remembers what her father told her the day before she left Burkina Faso: to make him proud. At one time, she shares, “I worked so many hours that I got sick for two weeks.” She grins, “My dad said, ‘Stop, it’s okay. You have a 3.9 GPA. We’re proud of you.’”