Graduate makes journey from Sierra Leone to Penn State Berks

It’s a long way from Sierra Leone to Penn State Berks, but that’s the journey that Foday Sheriff has taken, and he’s not finished yet.

Sheriff’s parents came to the United States from the area of Sierra Leone that was affected by the “blood diamond” wars. They fled the region, but his father returned and his mother followed a few years later, leaving Sheriff to live with an aunt in Philadelphia, who at times had more than seven other children living under the same roof.

“Southwest Philadelphia was like Sierra Leone with all the violence and guns,” Sheriff explained.

Sheriff’s aunt made a living taking care of the elderly, often working nights. But she didn’t have to worry about Sheriff or the other children in her care since she instilled the value of hard work and the importance of staying out of trouble.

“As long as you know who you are and what you want, you can say ‘no’ to anything,” Sheriff stated. “I know if I work hard toward what I want, I will succeed.”

Sheriff graduated from high school in 2007, while many of his classmates dropped out – or worse – were killed as a result of gang violence. Yet when he tried to apply for financial aid to attend college, he was denied because he did not have any documentation about his parents, who had returned to Sierra Leone.

So Sheriff took a job at the Philadelphia Airport, working on the baggage ramp. There a coworker who told him about the ASPIRE program at Penn State Berks. The ASPIRE program offers admission consideration to students who demonstrate the potential to be successful but who may require specialized and structured academic support services. The program is for Pennsylvania residents who are freshmen applicants.

Sheriff met with the Penn State Berks ASPIRE program coordinator, and he enrolled at Penn State Berks in the fall of 2009. He continued to work full-time while taking classes, and yet he still managed to make the dean’s list and gain membership to Chi Alpha Epsilon honor society.

He commented that he has taken an interest in anatomy and physiology due in part to one of his professors, Susan Monk, who is now retired.

“Dr. Monk made the class so interesting,” he explains. “She’s my motivation. Certain people make their mark on your life.”

Sheriff intends to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in life science, and eventually, he plans to apply to medical school, but first he wants to do volunteer work in countries like the one where he was born – yet another leg on his incredible journey to success.

Last Updated May 13, 2013