Student Spotlight

Going the Distance

◆ 8 minute read

Going the Distance

Olufunmilayo “Fumi” Odeniyi thought she was leaving Lagos, Nigeria and heading to the western part of Virginia for college. However, where she landed instead was Almost Heaven.

What she thought was a mistake ended up being a wonderful opportunity. 

West Virginia University and the Chambers College had all of the resources Odeniyi needed but, after a scare of possibly returning to Nigeria and not graduating due to funds, she regretted not taking advantage of the helpful tools sooner. 

“The Chambers College really is the best thing that happened to me. It’s the professors and staff within the College that made me feel so uniquely special,” she said. 

Odeniyi graduated in May 2021 with an accounting degree and a minor in business data analytics, and is now enrolled in our Chambers College Master of Accountancy (MAcc) program. She completed her second internship with Big Four company, Ernst & Young, this past summer as an assurance intern all while navigating graduate school and has recently accepted a full-time offer with the company. 

Her story reminds us all that a lot of hard work and determination will lead us down the right path, but a helping hand will make sure it’s paved. 

Q: Not only were you new to college, but everything was new to you – the culture, the language and the food. What was a hurdle, if any, that you had to overcome?

A: I was 17 when I got here and I was overwhelmed with the curriculum as a whole. I started college as an accounting major in Nigeria, but the education system was very different over here. It wasn’t so much the language because I had traveled to the United States when I was younger and I watched shows like “iCarly” and “Big Time Rush,” so I was familiar with the accent and the English that was spoken, but it was the spelling. I had to take English 101 my first semester and I remember my professor saying he wasn’t going to cut me any slack with typos, such as spelling organization with an “s” instead of a “z”, but it made me work harder. Another thing that was different for me here was calling people by their first name. Where I’m from, it’s disrespectful to not add the title before someone’s name. It was challenging at first to find the balance of fitting in while also staying true to my culture. 

Q: Did you get involved in any clubs that connected you back to your culture?

A: My RA noticed that I felt a little lost at first, so she helped me find student orgs and friends that could relate to me and my culture, such as WVU’s African Student Association (ASA). Many of the students in the club were Nigerian, too, so I spent a lot of time with them and I received the feeling of home that I had been craving since I first arrived on campus. We would cook traditional cuisine and attend church together. I quickly learned Morgantown wasn’t so different after all. 

Q: Why business?

A: In high school, I had the opportunity to dip my toes into different fields and subjects, and it was the business courses that stood out to me. I love the flexibility you get with an accounting degree and how it translates into other positions within the business industry. However, I would say it was my dad. I grew up watching him work as an accountant. He was a hard worker but he also never stopped talking about how much he loved his job. He was self-employed, which I thought was fascinating because he was his own boss and he worked at his own pace. He’s my role model and I continue to look up to him. 

Q: You previously mentioned that there was a possibility that you would have to move back to Nigeria and not graduate. Can you explain why you thought you may have to move home and how that felt?

A: Going to school in the United States is really expensive as an international student, which my parents knew, but my family wanted me to have the best life we could have. Going into my senior year of college, I needed additional funding outside of me and my family if I wanted to continue with school. The small job I had was not going to be enough to get me through. I was completely on my own and I was receiving emails saying I owed a certain amount by a certain date and if I didn’t pay I would have to leave the country the next date.

Q: What did you do next?

A: It was my last semester and I am supposed to be graduating in May, and I didn’t know what to do at first. I reached out to both professors, Gary LeDonne and Barbara Apostolou. I was taking (Gary) LeDonne's ACCT 441 class at the time (Fall 2020) and he connected me with Rachel Nieman who was in charge of scholarships. I reached out to him because we had a good relationship from class and I felt comfortable asking for his help in my time of need. I reached out to (Barbara) Apostolou, as well, because she helped me through a rough time I experienced (Fall 2019) outside of taking her ACCT 312 class. She was also my advisor for the EY launch internship program and became a mother figure over time. 

I told them everything that I was going through financially, and emotionally knowing that some of my family members had caught COVID back home, and they were reassuring me that everything was going to be okay even though I kept receiving final notice emails. I'll forever be grateful for the roles they both played in my life.

Q: So, you were able to stay and graduate. How did it all come together? 

A: I was connected to the right people who could help me and work with me to apply for scholarships. After a few emails, essays and applications later, it was settled. That is something I still thank God for still to this day. It really is a blessing to be financially unburdened, especially as a student when you’re trying to focus on your studies. The list is endless when it comes to naming the people that have helped me out in Chambers College, directly and indirectly. I am truly grateful for them all.

Q: After possibly not graduating due to finances and the pandemic, how did it feel to be able to walk across that stage with all of your classmates? 

A: Graduation was everything I had hoped and dreamed for. I was so happy and relieved to have the opportunity to walk, and my mom was able to come to Morgantown to be with me which was really special. I will never forget that President E. Gordon Gee stopped me and told me that he loved my bright pink heels, too!

Q: What made you enroll in our MAcc program?

A: The people – I don’t want to let them go. I looked at all of my options, but the offer I received through the Chambers College was spectacular and tailored to my needs. My priority now is passing the CPA exam before I start grad school full-time and this program has that. 

Q: What is your plan for after grad school? 

A: I want to soak up as much as I can – learn as much and get as many experiences as I can. Right now, I’m doing my second internship with EY now – last year I did the launch program and this year I am an assurance intern – and I would love to work full-time with the Big Four company. In a perfect world, I could see myself working for EY and then possibly venturing into forensic accounting in the future. I could see myself using my minor, as well, with data analytics. I would also love to give back to the business college someday, because the people are why I am at where I’m at today, even if that means receiving my Ph.D. and teaching. 

Q: Who is Fumi outside of business? 

A: My friends and I are picky eaters, but we have decided to expand our pallets and have taken up cooking. I also recently started drawing and painting again, which I did a lot during my teenage years in Nigeria. It’s a great way to relieve stress. When it comes to the pink heels, I typically don’t like professional clothing but I can see myself making it my own one day – putting a touch of Fumi on it. 

Q: Looking back now, what advice would you give other business students – international or not? 

A: Ask for help! I can’t emphasize that enough. I even think now about what would have happened if I would have reached out sooner. Everyone is so nice and one thing I noticed was that even if the person you first reach out to cannot help, they will find someone who can. Everyone is there to share their own experiences with you in order to help you grow. 

For instance, I remember going to my first career fair thinking no one would want to talk to me and it was the complete opposite. Everyone was happy to talk to me and help me with my resume. Remember that everything that is offered is for you, so use the resources available. 

I’m an international student and I can say that my life ended up pretty great. I did not think I would be here and now I don’t even want to leave.