It can be easy to forget the variety of opportunities available to you as a citizen of the United States. But for recent immigrants like Peter Ukpo, the opportunity to earn a slice of the American Dream acts as a constant motivator.
Ukpo, a recent graduate of Rasmussen College’s IT management program, has gotten closer to achieving that dream in five years than many do in a lifetime. This is the story of how far he has come, both literally and figuratively, since leaving his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria.
A big move & smooth transition
Lagos—a port city on the Atlantic Ocean—is home to around 21 million inhabitants, making it one of Africa’s largest cities. But despite its size and relative prosperity, Ukpo and his family moved to the U.S. in 2008 in search of better educational and economic opportunities.
Ukpo’s transition to living the in the U.S. was easier in some ways than you might imagine. Nigeria, as a former British colony, has adopted teaching English in its schools—so unlike many immigrants, Ukpo was already speaking fluently before making the move. That fluency tends to throw off the people who don’t know him well.
“It’s funny when I tell people I’ve recently moved from Nigeria because they’re so surprised,” Ukpo says. “They can’t believe I speak English so well.”
Ukpo made the move to Minnesota to live with his cousins and after briefly living in Miami. The biggest obstacles for Ukpo’s transition were simple—getting used to the cultural differences between America and Nigeria and also the drastic shift in climate.
“For a lot of immigrants there’s a huge disconnect between what they’ve seen on television [about America] and what it is really like,” Ukpo says. “It wasn’t really a tough transition though, the main thing for me was just adapting to the culture and the weather here in Minnesota.”
Switching from a balmy 80 degrees every day to the extremes of the Minnesota climate is challenging, but it pales in comparison to the difficulty faced by immigrants who have limited family support and little English skill. After all, warm clothes can be bought, but the support provided by family is priceless.
Fortunately for Ukpo, the connection with his family in America is alive and well.
Life in Nigeria sets stage for future education
Ukpo has a long standing interest in finding out how things work. As a child he enjoyed taking things apart and putting them together, but one instance in particular sparked Ukpo’s interest in computers and technology.
“I had broken my dad’s computer when I was a kid and I was freaking out thinking ‘Oh my god he’s going to kill me when he gets home,’” Ukpo says.
The ensuing frantic scramble to fix the computer was a success, both long and short term. Ukpo avoided getting into trouble and simultaneously sparked a curiosity for learning about computer hardware components.
Ukpo continued to feed that interest while in Lagos by attending a technical school that taught some of the basics of computers and information technology. The classes there gave Ukpo a solid base of competency for when the time came for him to further pursue his education in the U.S.
Learning as a family
Ukpo knew he wanted to continue to develop his technological knowledge after moving to the U.S. so he began to look into schools near his new home. Rasmussen College caught his interest and less than a year after arriving in the U.S. he signed up for classes at the Brooklyn Park, Minn., campus.
The prospect of starting a new school was daunting but Ukpo wasn’t alone—after deciding to attend Rasmussen College he encouraged two of his sisters to sign up for classes as well. Ukpo and his sisters could rely on each other for support, and although they were studying different subjects, he says it was nice to all be together as a family. The fact that Ukpo and his siblings attended college is no surprise, as his family made it a point to emphasize the importance of education while growing up.
“My dad always told me education is the one thing that never expires,” Ukpo says. “Houses, cars and other possessions can all go away but an education is forever.”
Ukpo put a capstone on his everlasting education in 2013 when he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in IT management.
Turning education into success
Ukpo was set on earning an associate degree when he began at Rasmussen College because the IT management bachelor’s degree was not yet offered. The associate degree he earned in 2011 was enough to get him his foot in the door at 3M, one of the largest employers in the state. Ukpo says the experience there was great, if not a little intimidating.
“I was pretty nervous starting out since it was my first entry level job,” Ukpo says. “But the education I had gave me the confidence I needed to do well.”
Many people would be satisfied with an associate degree, but Ukpo valued his education enough to return to Rasmussen College for an additional two years to complete his bachelor’s degree.
Now that he’s finished, he has taken on a new job as an enterprise operations analyst at Prime Therapeutics. The experience he gained at Rasmussen College and 3M have allowed Ukpo to hit the ground running.
“When I started there my coworkers were impressed with how quickly I picked up on everything,” Ukpo says.
Ukpo wants to eventually earn a master’s degree, but for now he is focused on earning IT certifications and continuing to live the American Dream.
Peter Ukpo traveled halfway around the world for the opportunities that many of us take for granted. If you’re inspired by Ukpo’s story or just interested in information technology, visit the IT management program page to find out what opportunities await you.