Born and raised in a Tanzanian refugee camp after his family fled a war-torn Congo, Mkongwa Cosma Ekyoci has found a home at San Diego Mesa College.
“I feel like I belong here,” said Ekyoci, who resettled in City Heights with his family nearly five years ago and enrolled at Mesa this fall through the San Diego Promise program. “I feel comfortable here.”
But Mkongwa did not always see himself fitting in so well within a college environment. “I was not expecting to attend college, because when I came the United States I didn’t speak English.” Arriving to the United States in middle school, Mkongwa had to overcome the challenges of a tough language barrier, all new people, and a completely different culture and educational system.
By the time he was in high school, Mkongwa’s counselor was encouraging him to go to college. Mkongwa shared his worries that he couldn’t afford the cost of tuition in the United States. That’s when his counselor told him about the San Diego Promise, a program that would cover the costs of tuition and books, as well as provide supportive services. Mkongwa was still doubtful. He knew that there were over 600 students applying to the San Diego Promise and he thought, “There are so many students who want this scholarship. I can’t compete with all these students who are smarter and better than me.”
When Mkongwa learned that he was selected to receive a San Diego Promise scholarship, his whole outlook changed. “Promise has brought me from nothing, to something” he says with pride. “Now, I am a student. My future is bright.”
Mkongwa found additional support within the Umoja program at Mesa, which is designed to assist African American and other historically underrepresented students who want to transfer to a university. Ekyoci says Umoja, which borrows its name from the Swahili word for “unity,” is among the reasons why he feels so at home at Mesa. “We have different backgrounds here,” he says. “We’re all from different places.”
Mkongwa plans to go to the police academy and build a career within law enforcement. When asked about his goals, he reflects on giving back: “I want to work in the community. I am getting help now, so I want to be able to grow, learn, come back, and help out.”
Margarita began her journey at Continuing Education, where she received the support, resources, and encouragement to begin to dream about a college degree. But it wasn’t until she learned about the San Diego Promise that Margarita really started to believe college was possible for her.
When she was selected for the San Diego Promise Program, she felt like she had won the lottery. Feeling like she had a “new purpose in life,” she enrolled at San Diego Mesa College, where she now studies computer science. Margarita’s dream? One day own and run her own IT Company. She is determined: “This is my one opportunity in life, and I’m not going to let it go.”