From South America, 2009 Class Speaker and Tulane University’s 2016 Graduate School Valedictorian Verse Shom connects with an inspired personal chronicle rooted in AUN’s core philosophies of academic excellence, mentorship, entrepreneurship, and development. Here’s Verse Shom in his own words:
In the fall of 2005, I was privileged alongside 124 freshmen to enroll for the inaugural class at AUN. This was a big deal for my parents and I, as the newly founded American-style University was foreign to Nigeria and had no record of accomplishment. However, AUN’s (then AAUN) vision and model were big and unique, and as a young man, I was simply excited to be a part of the history. From the onset, AUN emphasized critical thinking and entrepreneurial development, utilizing cutting-edge technology and information—this was groundbreaking within the Nigerian academic space. I went on to be president of Masterminds Entertainment Enterprise in 2006, one of the start-ups funded with $5,000 as part of AUN’s pioneering--compulsory--entrepreneurship program and further got involved with several extracurricular activities (including leadership, sports, and community service) and academic projects.
Running a Business on AUN Campus Enriched My Entrepreneurial and Life Skills
Without any previous business experience, I was tossed into the challenging but exciting world of entrepreneurship and start-ups as a business leader, and the experience was very rewarding and life-changing. The work (several hours) it took for us to research and develop our winning business plan, pitch to faculty and staff members, and students (presentations) and eventually get funded and manage a successful entertainment company (50 staff team), which was the first at AUN, expanded my reality, business and leadership skills. Thanks to this, I can proudly call myself a serial entrepreneur, and despite my professional interests, owning and running a business has remained a constant feature in my life. Perhaps, one of the biggest impacts AUN has had on me has been the exposure to being a problem solver, a self-starter, and someone passionate about teamwork (collaboration). The confidence and experience developed through working in multiple, real-life situations—such as being a part of starting and managing what was perhaps the first student-run football league in Nigeria, contesting in elections (though losing the Student Government Association presidential elections), serving on the SGA executive council, volunteering for community service—have propelled me to venture boldly and empowered me to pursue my ambitions consistently. I must add that learning how to “fail-up” (turn failures into success) shaped me as much as the little successes I have recorded.
Virtues of Community Service at AUN
One of the great lessons I have held onto since graduating at AUN is the idea of community service and giving back--one cannot consider oneself a true AUN alumnus (Stallion) without practicing and appreciating the virtues and importance of community service. In keeping with this culture, I endeavor to volunteer (during my leave from work and while I was a graduate student) my time, resources and/or skills whenever possible. As members of the AUN Alumni Association, we are grateful to have played a little part in supporting the IDPs in Yola--which is a second home to us--individually and collectively.
You have to pardon me, whenever I speak about AUN, it is usually difficult for me to be brief because I struggle to find the right words to sum up my experience and its impact on my life without it sounding like a cliché or scripted [being original is also an AUN mantra]. In the course of my young professional career, I have had amazing opportunities to apply myself and learn. Whether it is working for AUN, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), attending graduate school at Tulane University, or now at Fundacion Paraguaya (in Asunción, Paraguay), my story has always been directly or indirectly connected to AUN. I started work straight after concluding my mandatory national youth service--which is hardly usual in Nigeria nowadays--as an assistant to then AUN President, Dr. Margee Ensign. This experience stretched my horizon, exposed me to the world, and set me on the path of fulfilling my dreams. For me, AUN is not just a university; it is more than that. AUN is an incubator for ambitious dreamers and a “success express line.” With the right attitude (drive and work ethic) anyone who comes to AUN and is willing to achieve his or her dreams will find in it a university and a lifetime support system that will always provide one the knowledge, resources, and global network to reach beyond their limits, and stay ahead of the curve.
AUN Mentors Set Me Out
Why do I say this? I am not just a beneficiary of a good education but the mentoring experience at AUN was unique. When I started considering the idea of a career in international development in my junior year at AUN, I had experienced professors like Dr. Jainaba Kah, a former World Bank expert, and Dr. Adi Bongo, a development economics scholar (now at Lagos Business School) to provide me guidance and career advice.
My former finance professor at AUN and later my Director at the Monetary Policy Department of the CBN, Dr. Alvan Ikoku Jr., was more than a teacher and a boss, he remains my mentor and friend to date--and not just to me but several of my AUN school mates as well. In addition, Dr. Ensign put the final piece of the puzzle to my dream of becoming an international development expert. She provided me a glowing recommendation, a network of people and support for a Master’s degree (in Global Development) at Tulane University. It doesn’t end there, I moved to Paraguay to work for Fundacion Paraguaya--a reputable social enterprise founded by the renowned Dr. Martin Burt (whom I first met in 2011 while working at AUN).
Working in South America – AUN Prepared Me
In my role as an International Replicas Specialist for the Poverty Stoplight--an innovative visual survey platform (VSP)—I am responsible for managing a portfolio of partners in Africa and some English-speaking countries in Asia, to support the replication and implementation of the poverty-eliminating tool.
The Poverty Stoplight was developed by Fundacion Paraguaya to simplify the process of evaluating and eliminating multidimensional poverty on a household level. Through a self-assessment process, the Poverty Stoplight helps to activate the passion and drive of families using latest technology towards overcoming the different aspects of poverty in their lives. Since my arrival in Paraguay, I have been cutting my teeth in the exciting field of development. My position provides me the unique opportunity to work with organizations and individuals across diverse sectors of development, designing and implementing programs. My desire to become a world-class expert in the area of social innovation and sustainable urban systems/livelihoods is truly on the way. I am excited to be experiencing a new culture, learning a new language [very important for a career in development] and working with some of the very smart young people in South America. My hope is to bring back all these experiences and expertise to contribute to the development of Nigeria.
No one can really tell the future nor can I predict what could have been, but my decision to drop out of a federal university in Nigeria and enroll into AUN after being denied the opportunity to go abroad in 2005 has proven to be the smartest decision of my life yet.