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5,000 Miles Later

"I had great professors and support from staff who helped me navigate the realities of being an ‘international’ student, a Black student and a student in such a challenging field of study."
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Jennifer Toyo, NKU alumna and VISTA coordinator
Jennifer Toyo’s journey to Northern Kentucky University began a good distance away from Kentucky. In fact, it was more than 5,000 miles away. 

Born and raised in Ivory Coast, West Africa, Toyo took a gap year after high school to spend time with her family while applying to different colleges. Toyo's mother helped a representative from NKU’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), and she tagged along. When they met at the EducationUSA advising center, Toyo was encouraged to apply for the Diversity Scholarship and was awarded a full-tuition scholarship. 

“The fact that he went out of his way to tell me about this opportunity said a lot to me about the attention of the administration,” Toyo recalls. 

When Toyo made it to campus, she immediately found a home in NKU R.O.C.K.S., the International Student Union and the African Student Union. Because of the connections she made and guidance she received, Toyo felt like she had a place here at NKU.
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"I think it is important to recognize and celebrate the thousands of important contributions people of African descent made to not only American and world history but even to our communities and culture today."

“I also had great professors and support from staff who helped me navigate the realities of being an ‘international’ student, a Black student and a student in such a challenging field of study,” Toyo says.

As a graduate with a degree in biological sciences, Toyo hopes to pursue a career in the medical field and work abroad. Because of her experiences on campus, she is completing her service year through AmeriCorps as the VISTA coordinator of NKU R.O.C.K.S. 

“The NKU R.O.C.K.S. program is specifically important in making sure African American and Black freshmen have the resources and support they need to succeed and eventually graduate,” Toyo says. 

Overall, Toyo says that the Office of African American Student Initiatives (AASI) offers a safe space for students to connect and open opportunities for Black students to receive leadership training. 

Her advice to first year-students is to reach out and make connections. 

“Utilize your resources,” Toyo says. “There are so many free resources available to you—just for you because your experience here matters.”

Toyo also owes a lot to her mother, who served in the Ivory Coast helping hundreds of students learn about the United States and develop their leadership skills. Watching her mother's hard work inspired Toyo to chase her dreams.

“She contributed tremendously to me being here and doing the work I get to do now,” Toyo says. “She and other role models in my community passed on a legacy of excellence, service and passion.” 

When Toyo reflects on Black History Month, she thinks of the families and Black heroes who contributed to everyone's daily lives.

“I think it is important to recognize and celebrate the thousands of important contributions people of African descent made to not only American and world history but even to our communities and culture today,” Toyo says.

About This Article

Lizzie Kibler
Lizzie Kibler Wallace ('16)
Contributor, NKU Magazine
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Published February 2021
Photography provided
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