COTC student is achieving her dream after an unexpected win of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery.
NEWARK, Ohio, July 8, 2019 – At age 20, Elizabeth Djikunu faced an uncertain future. Growing up in Ghana, Africa, Elizabeth wandered through the wards of the hospital where her mother, Agnes Pokuah, worked as a pharmacy technician. She watched the nurses care for patients and thought to herself, "What if I could do something to make these people better? I want to care for people like that too." Her ambition was challenged when she failed to pass the math exams for entrance into a Ghana university.
Djikunu's mother advised her to enroll in a diploma course at a private college. It was there that she nonchalantly filled out the application for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery, an annual lottery established through the Immigration Act of 1990 that aims to diversify the immigrant population of the United States. Two years later she received a letter stating she had been chosen to receive a visa to the U.S. Again, it was her mother's words that forced her resolve. "If this is what's best for you," Djikunu remembers Pokuah saying, "we're going to do whatever needs to be done."Djikunu humbly admitted, "I could have done better and definitely should have been more focused on school back then. I learned a huge lesson from that time in my life."
Djikunu arrived in the U.S. where she took up residence in the Springfield, Virginia, area with a mother and son whom she knew well in Ghana. She obtained her green card, which enabled her to get a job in retail. But months later her living arrangement dissolved, and Djikunu's minimum-wage income couldn't cover her rent, utility and grocery expenses. Djikunu was forced to utilize the services of a nearby homeless shelter.
"When I was in the shelter, I would return from work and half of my stuff would be gone. But I never worried about it because I figured that the person who took it must have really needed it," Djikunu said. She lived in the shelter for two months before she was connected with another woman who took her in until a friend from Ghana, Emmanuel, who had settled in the Columbus, Ohio, area urged her to move for a better chance at financial success.
"He secured a room for me in Columbus, and I made the move. My bedroom was completely empty, but that was the least of my worries. As long as I had a roof over my head, I was good," said Djikunu. She knew that being in this new place was her opportunity to buckle down and fulfill her dream. "I realized how much I wanted to make something out of my life; that I wanted to pursue what I had concluded would help me a make a difference in this world."
Emmanuel's sister Dorcas helped her get a job as a personal care assistant at Riverside Methodist Hospital, where Djikunu has worked since her arrival in Ohio. Jamie Minor, a Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) alumna, was one of the first nurses Djikunu worked with at Riverside. "She became my role model. She noticed the small things that mattered to patients and fixed them," Djikunu said. "I asked her where she went to nursing school and she said, 'COTC. If you want a great school, COTC is it.'"
Since starting her education at COTC, Djikunu has received the support, guidance and hands-on learning she feels she needs to be an effective, caring nurse. "Compassion is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about what makes Elizabeth stand out," said Lori Peden, associate professor of nursing technology. "She really brings together the science and art of nursing."Associate Professor of Nursing Technology Kris Bowman echoed Peden's thoughts, "She has withstood significant adversity. I am impressed by her unrelenting desire to do better for herself and those around her. Elizabeth will undoubtedly be an outstanding nurse."
Djikunu gushes about getting to learn using technology like the Anatomage table, an anatomy visualization system that is both a virtual library of human and animal cadavers and a clinical diagnostic tool enabling visualization of medical scans such as a MRI, CT and others. "It gives you the link to the body systems to know that if one organ gets compromised there's a big likelihood that this other organ is also," she said. "Learning like this really helps me feel confident that I will be able to effectively and accurately care for my patients."
Djikunu also noted three instructors who have gone the extra mile to see her succeed. "Lori Peden and Susan Cooperider have really pushed me to focus and do my best. Kris Bowman has even become like a second mother to me which I needed being so far away from mine," she said. "I really feel like every instructor here has really wanted to see me succeed. Their caring nature and extra effort to motivate me are what have made me push through the difficult times."
Djikunu almost put everything aside to leave the U.S. and return to Ghana to be by her mother's bedside. Pokuah had a severe stroke that caused her to not be able to walk or talk. "My mother is my best friend, my biggest supporter and my constant champion; I just wanted to rush to her side, but I knew that she would want to me stay, finish my education and achieve my dream. I am also a firm believer in karma, so I thought that if I stay here and care for someone the way my mother needs to be cared for, someone in Ghana would do the same for her." Djikunu's mother has since regained the ability to walk but still can't speak fully.
Djikunu will achieve what has now become one part of her dream when she graduates with her associate degree in nursing on Aug. 2. Because of her lottery win, she dreams big. She intends to pursue a clinical critical care fellowship and a bachelor's degree in nursing. After that, Djikunu is thinking that the letters 'M.D.' might add a nice ring to her name.
"I just want to save lives, touch lives and change lives."
Photo caption: Djikunu poses for a photo as she demonstrates nursing skills she has learned at COTC.
COTC is a fully accredited, public college dedicated to providing high quality, accessible programs of technical education in response to current and emerging employment needs. COTC is the only technical college in Ohio operating four full-service campus locations: Newark, Coshocton, Knox and Pataskala.