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Onyinye Onyeoma

From Nigeria to Yakima

One student’s story of perseverance

Just four years ago, Onyinye Onyeoma was living in Lagos, Nigeria working with the local government after earning a master’s degree in human resources. Then an encounter with nursing staff, caring for her young daughter, changed Onyeoma’s journey.

“When I gave birth to my daughter, who has a medical condition, I was at the hospital and noticed how caring the nurses are,” she said. “I decided I wanted to go back to school so I could care for people.”

Onyeoma began looking for opportunities to study internationally. At the recommendation of a family friend, she learned about the Yakima Valley and Yakima Valley College. “He shared that YVC had a nice community and nursing program,” says Onyeoma. After doing some additional research she decided to move her family the nearly 7,500 miles to Yakima to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

“I didn’t like YVC at first,” says Onyeoma on her experience being in the United States for the first time. “I’ve always been at a university in a bigger city with more things to do and more activities. But the more time went on I realized that it’s a community here which I never had when I was in the university.”

She especially liked the one-on-one support she found at YVC — both inside the classroom and outside of it. 

“My professors never knew me by my name before, I was just a number. Here your professors know you by name and they call you by name,” said Onyeoma. “When I go to the registrar’s office it’s very familiar and you can ask questions and get answers right away. That’s what I like, I like the community here and the small-town feel.”

Despite helping her daughter through her medical condition and giving birth to a second child during the middle of her coursework, Onyeoma stayed focused on her goal.

“My daughter does have a medical condition and I had a choice: either to be there for my daughter or miss clinical and possibly not be able to finish my [required] clinical hours,” she said. “It was a difficult time for me because I was all the way in Seattle with my daughter and then I had to also be at clinicals [in Yakima]. Thank goodness I had a very understanding instructor and peers who helped support me.”

“Be a sponge and absorb all the knowledge you can absorb. Like my mom used to say “Learning never stops till you die,” always be in the mood to learn.”  — Onyinye Onyeoma, student

After giving birth to a third child, she needed to leave her newborn daughter with her father to keep up with the demands of YVC’s rigorous program.

“I would leave her with her dad, who was amazing, for like 12 hours each day. I would be freaking out wanting to know she’s OK. What kept me going was my faith in God. When I gave birth, I was going into the quarter that people often fail. It was tough, there were days I would wake up and my body was just not in the right shape to go, but my husband would say ‘You can do this, just go,’ and I would go.”

Now having completed her associate of applied science in nursing, Onyeoma advises other students to not let challenges stand in the way of their education.

“Don’t shy away from the program, but know that it’s going to be two tough years of your life and it’s going to be worth it in the end,” she said.

She plans to return to her home in Nigeria and begin giving back to her community. She also hopes to continue her education and provided much-needed mental health services to the region.

“I do actually want to pursue more education. I know people think I’m crazy but yes I have a lot I want to give back to society and have been blessed to be educated to the highest level so why not?” she said.

She hopes to one day earn double doctorate degrees in nursing and mental health and open her own practice.  

“Pre-COVID there was a need for these services and post-COVID the need has just multiplied. I want to be there to fill that need,” she said.

Story by Stefanie Menard, AA-DTA ’05, communications consultant. Photo by Matt Barton, graphic designer/multimedia content producer.