Ismaël Coulibaly doesn't see himself as someone special. But from the first moment I met this well-spoken and polite student, I knew I was sitting across from someone poised to make his mark on the world. As a junior majoring in Political Science with a dual-minor in Business and Computer Science, Ismaël truly represents the kind of driven student who enriches the campus environment through his involvement. As if pursuing multiple degree concentrations wasn't enough, he serves as Vice-President of the UO Entrepreneur Club and an active member of the African Students Association (ASA) where he's leading efforts to organize a campus-wide Malaria Day to raise funds for mosquito nets in Africa. Thanks to the generosity of alumni donors who support the Ghent Scholarship, the Mills Study Abroad Scholarship, and the Office of International Affairs, UO students have the opportunity - both inside and outside the classroom - to gain the global perspectives necessary to thrive in today's interconnected world.
In West Africa, the Coulibaly family was an especially famous group of traders whose influence dates back hundreds of years in the region. Their influence spread from Mali and eventually into Ismaël's home countries of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana so that even at a young age, Ismaël recognized that business was in his blood. After fleeing Côte d'Ivoire with his family because of the impending Civil War, Ismaël enrolled in the Alliance Francaise and the US Embassy's school in Accra, Ghana. Already fluent in French, Ismaël worked hard to learn the English necessary to complete his high school diploma through the American School. Upon graduation, he spent 6 months working in the family business soon realizing that a university education would "open doors around the world." Despite pressure to stay and learn the family business, Ismaël decided to pursue his studies in the US. With the help of an uncle in Boston, he researched colleges only narrowly missing the application deadline for his first choice school, UMass-Amherst. Today, Ismaël laughingly admits something "like destiny" must have been guiding his path to the UO. Despite his original plan to attend "any" US school on a quarter system so he could then transfer to UMass, Ismaël became genuinely excited when he learned about the UO through a Google search. "People here are so willing to listen and to help" he recalls about the application process. Through near daily phone conversations with campus staff, especially in the Office of International Affairs, and with other Africans on campus, Ismaël came to UO and rapidly "fell in love with Eugene." Today, he enthuses about the lovely campus and surrounding community, "I've had a tremendous experience since I've been here."
When Ismaël first came to campus, he set his sights solely on a degree in Business. But because of his belief that education is "not about the A+ but the value behind college life" he was able to see other opportunities on campus that led him to diversify his degree program. Having already started his own business during his freshman year, Ismaël remembers a pivotal moment when he stopped Professor David Dusseau one day after BA101. "I told him your book is broken. It doesn't work because it isn't helping me in the real world. But he showed me it is about what you learn and how you apply that in real life which is how I got into the Entrepreneur Club. E-club is great because it is for anyone in any major. I think of it as a supercharger for the potential inside you."
Today, Ismaël enjoys all the variety of a liberal arts education by taking classes across campus including a particularly memorable Physics series with Professor Raghuveer Parthasarathy. "The logic and reasoning we learned was way beyond my expectation. His explanation made it accessible so we understood the correlation between theory and application," Ismaël says. In non-academic life, Ismaël is part of the group responsible for revamping UO's annual African Student Night held every spring. In the planning process, Ismaël and others asked themselves "what are we really accomplishing?" And while he concedes that it is fun to expose people to African culture, the group is "not impacting anyone's life in Africa, the people who we claim to represent." With that in mind, Ismaël and the other members of the ASA are planning African Student Night 2010 with the goal of a campus wide "Malaria Day" fundraiser collecting $10,000 to provide 1,000 treated mosquito nets to people living in African refugee camps.
Even as he works for large-scale change, Ismaël also wants to work on a personal level to help other African students on campus, "This is a time for people to stand for a difference. We can each do little things on a small scale." For him that means taking an active role mentoring and helping other students connect with services, "I can't believe how resourceful campus is, if you look in the right place." Ismaël always tells other students to take advantage of everything the university and its donors help provide because "Life doesn't come to you. You have to go and get it."
After graduation, Ismaël plans to extend his commitment to others by returning to West Africa where he says "I want to change a lot of things for my people. I want to gain skills and go apply them to my home community." And no matter what, this global Duck knows that "even when I have a business, I plan to contribute and help people. I think that's my main purpose in life."