If it weren’t for the luck of the draw, Noelle Gichohi may never have made it to UW Tacoma. She grew up in Kenya, Africa, where she met and married her husband. In 2002, they entered their names into the U.S. State Department’s Diversity Visa Lottery, a program which provides up to 55,000 visas each year, “drawn from random selection among all entries to persons who meet strict eligibility requirements from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States,” according to State’s web site.
They won the lottery. Needless to say, it changed her life.
No one in her immediate family had ever left Africa before. At first they settled in Lynnwood, Wash. Over the years they moved further south: first SeaTac, then Federal Way. She had a daughter (Chelsea, now 9) and a son (Oliver, now 6). She worked a variety of jobs, including at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as a program assistant.
The whole time, she knew she wanted to get a bachelor’s degree. But she also knew she wasn’t prepared for college. The leg up was provided by Highline Community College, which she entered in 2009, getting her 2-year degree in 2011. She was now the first person in her family with a college degree.
To finish her bachelor’s she had three choices: Central Washington, PLU or UW. She liked UW’s name, and the easy commute and smaller class sizes of the Tacoma campus. Now that she’s graduating, she is the first one in her family to have a bachelor’s degree.
She and her husband raise their children in a multi-cultural household. She herself speaks Kikuyu, Swahili and English, and the kids are getting pretty fluent in Kikuyu. They all went back to Kenya for a visit in 2011, where the young ones met loads of cousins, aunties and grandparents. She cooks mostly Kenyan traditional foods for the household.
Despite the pull of Kenya, Noelle plans on staying in the U.S. “I have my children to raise, and I want to give back to the community which has given so much to me.” She has already started that process: in the spring she served as the official UW Tacoma student representative on an international study tour of children’s museums. The tour inspired her to pursue school nutrition as the topic for her Global Honors thesis.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org