Livingstone student scores perfect 4.0

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 6, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
For some young adults, going to college out of state would be too difficult.
Try out of continent.
Winnie Chepchumba, 24, is from Kenya in East Africa. But for the past four years she didn’t let missing her family stop her from working hard to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
When she marches into Alumni Memorial Stadium this morning with fellow members of the Class of 2011, she’ll do so as salutatorian and with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
“I feel great about being the salutatorian,” Chepchumba said. “I’m very proud of my accomplishments.”
Chepchumba transferred to Livingstone College after one year at Central Connecticut State University. She left Central Connecticut because it was just too cold for her in New England.
Even though Salisbury offered a much warmer climate, Chepchumba wasn’t sure Livingstone would be a good fit at first.
“Initially it was too small for me, but then I liked the kind of close attention the teachers give students,” Chepchumba said. It also helped that she came to Livingstone on a cross country/track and field scholarship because participating in sports helped her make friends.
Justin Davis, head cross country and track and field coach, said Chepchumba is the type of student-athlete coaches dream of.
“Winnie is a very, very humble person,” Davis said. “She has been a tremendous blessing to coach, and very easy to coach. I don’t have to do a lot of work to get her where she needs to be. She has been All-CIAA for three, consecutive years in cross country.
“She practices hard and anytime she misses practice it’s for something school-related,” Davis continued. “She makes me look good. She’s got the highest GPA among the men’s and women’s teams. She will most definitely be missed, on the academic side and on the athletic side.”
Dr. R.D. Sharma, chairman for the division of business at Livingstone College, described Chepchumba as sincere and dedicated.
“Winnie’s teachers and peers are very impressed with her self discipline, punctuality and hard work,” Sharma said. “She is known for her smiling face and dependability. She is also an outstanding athlete. I wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Chepchumba said Sharma and Rao Jasti, an assistant professor of accounting, were among her favorite instructors. She hopes to earn an MBA at Iowa State University and ultimately work as a certified public accountant for a major firm like Deloitte & Touche or Price Waterhouse Coopers.
Chepchumba’s interest in accounting dates to her days at St. Mary’s Girls High School in Nandi South, Kenya.
“I like business, and I like working with account ledgers because I found it was easy for me to do,” she said.
In early March, Chepchumba and other Livingstone students traveled to Atlanta to participate in the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge, a competition that provided a forum for students to showcase their best ideas. Livingstone competed against students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, Clark Atlanta University and other schools.
“At first they didn’t let us see other competitors so we didn’t get to learn from them, which was one of the main objectives in going down there,” Chepchumba said. “But we still had a good time. We stayed in a nice hotel and had good food.”
At Livingstone, Chepchumba was a tutor through the college’s Empowering Scholars Program, a participant in VITA, or Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program, a member of SIFE, or Students in Free Enterprise, and last year she played on the women’s tennis team.
Tanya E. Greene, program coordinator in Student Support Services at Livingstone, couldn’t say enough about Chepchumba.
“There are so many wonderful qualities that I admire about Winnie,” Greene said. “She is the most pleasant and respectable student that I’ve known since I’ve worked at Livingstone College. One of the qualities I admire most is that although she is from another continent, she did not allow her cultural difference to interfere with adjusting to life in the states. She seemed to remain true to who she is as a person, and her heritage.
“It was always a pleasure to see Winnie adorned in her African garb when there was an event on campus,” Greene said. “Her presence always exuded such kindness and warmth. She is one of a kind and a definite role model to the younger generation and to women. She is inspirational because she took a chance in life and left her country to receive an education, which will afford her opportunities beyond her expectations.”
Chepchumba knew it wouldn’t be easy to leave Kenya and come to the U.S. Had her older sister, Irine Chepkoech, not been attending school at Benedict College in South Carolina, chances are she wouldn’t have ventured so far away. By the time Chepchumba transferred to Livingstone Chepkoech had already earned her biology degree and moved to Louisville, but the two talk incessantly.
“As Winnie’s sister, I’m very proud of the young lady she has grown to be,” Chepkoech said. “Her educational accomplishments not only bring her success but also bring light and hope to our family. We thank Livingstone College for helping her shape her future.”
Chepkoech and cousin Frank Ng’eno, of Colorado Springs, Colo., will attend the graduation today. So will Chepchumba’s friend, Hillary Bor of Iowa.
Even so, Chepchumba wishes her parents and other siblings could see her walk across the stage today.
“It feels sad because I wanted to see my parents at my graduation, but then I understand all the challenges they have to face to come over here,” she said. “It would be really expensive for them to come…”
Chepchumba went home for Christmas break last year, her first time since arriving in the U.S., so she saw her parents not too long ago. And though being so far away has its emotional challenges, she said she’d definitely recommend it to others.
“I would encourage other students from Africa to come to the states and experience the diversity of different cultures because America is a melting pot,” Chepchumba said. “I would also encourage them to come over here so they can explore their talents.”