Families 'come with students, too.'
Senior science major relies on moral support of mom in Africa
Bernard Ikegwuoha, above, credits his mother for giving him strength and values to work hard toward his degree.
Office of University Communications
Families can take a supporting role in their student’s education, no matter how far away they are. Bernard Ikegwuoha, a fifth-year senior, knows this first-hand. His mother, who lives in Nigeria, is one of his most important allies.See Ikegwuoha's tips to families to help their students at WWU.
“Students come to college by themselves,” Ikegwuoha said. “But their parents really come with them too.” Although Ikegwuoha gets to speak to his mother, Cordelia Nonyelum Ejiofor, only a couple times a month over a scratchy phone connection, his mother has always been there to listen and relate to his struggles, no matter how different they are from her own, he said.
“My mom is my breath. She laid a foundation for me to never hate and to accept others,” Ikegwuoha said. “We are not put in this world to judge others.”
Ikegwuoha, Vice President of Diversity for the Associated Students board of directors, is originally from Umudioka, the small village in Nigeria where his mother lives, and has lived in Bellingham since age 12.
He works 40 to 60 hours a week to support himself as well as his mother while completing a full-time course load for his Chemistry major and Mathematics minor. It’s challenging to balance school and work responsibilities, he said. But knowing his family needs his support, Ikegwuoha said he wills himself to work hard and pull through the all-nighters.
He also found mentors on campus. Ikegwuoha said he felt at home at the Ethnic Student Center, and could always look to Michael Vendiola, ESC coordinator, for support. “He would always listen,” Ikegwuoha said. “He made himself like a brother and not an authority figure.”
Ikegwuoha also said he’s grown up at Western by immersing himself in the college atmosphere: joining clubs, seeking leadership positions, studying hard and being open to new people.
And he’s learned some wisdom along the way: “My life is not my own,” he said. “I’m in college to impact others’ lives, as well as my own.”
Ikegwuoha has a long road of education ahead of him: Upon graduating from Western in spring 2010, he will apply to medical school. But he knows he can count on his mother’s support throughout the journey.Here is his advice for families who want to help their students:
- Let your kids experience college. Don’t beg your student to come home every weekend — let them experience and adapt to their newly independent lifestyle. “College is an opportunity to be an individual and grow,” Ikegwuoha said.
- Do your research. The more you know about Western, such as majors and tutoring available, the better you will be able to support your student. Students often call their parents about academic or emotional challenges before approaching a counselor or other resources on campus. Knowing where to point them on campus, or just keeping an open ear to listen, can be vital to their success.
- Keep an open mind. Be there to listen when your student calls at 2 a.m. Even if you haven’t been to college, try to relate to their struggles and find a commonality. “This (college) is like fighting a war,” Ikegwuoha said. “The physicality of it is different, but the experience is new and overwhelming.” And the experience is even harder for students without support at home.
- Be involved. Visit campus if possible to learn about resources on campus such as the Financial Aid Office and the Tutoring Center. (If you can’t make it to campus, check out this list of important WWU links for families.) Fill out your portion of FAFSA forms on time. Sign up for Western’s newsletters and e-mails. Try to call and check in at least once a week and don’t be afraid to ask personal questions. Students may not open up all the time, but a question provides an opportunity to talk about anything that may be bothering them.