This story is Part 3 of FCAN’s The Students Who Make Florida Talent Strong series, which highlights the different pathways available for Florida students to achieve education beyond high school. Read Part 1 and 2 now.
Delaenam Akahoho is currently pursuing a graduate degree at a State University System of Florida institution. After moving to the U.S. from Ghana at a young age and growing up in a rural Florida county, Dela has used education to transform her life and is hoping to do the same for others.
Delaenam Akahoho can personally attest to the power of education and how it can positively affect one person’s life.
Dela, 21, grew up in rural Okeechobee County after arriving in Florida with her family from Ghana, West Africa at age 6. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the University of South Florida.
“Coming in as an immigrant, I felt there were a lot of hoops I had to jump through to prove that I was worthy of (an) education or even just prospering in life,” Dela said. “I believe education is one of the greatest tools that anyone could have to succeed.”
As a result, Dela also believes education is good for our collective health.
“Individuals who don’t have higher (levels of) education tend to have adverse health outcomes or aren’t able to access quality health care as easily,” she said. “It’s an underlying factor as to the overall health and well-being of a population. If we can equip people with proper education, we can change the trajectory of their lives.”
Getting inspired by the power of education
Dela says she knew from a very young age that she’d be going to college one day.
“From elementary school through my high school years, it was non-negotiable for me to go to college,” said Dela, who regarded the prospect of a going to college as an exciting opportunity rather than a mandatory task. “Seeing the level of impact education had on my family, I always knew that was an avenue that I wanted to take for myself.”
Upon arriving in the U.S. from Ghana, Dela’s father worked at a dairy farm while her mother was initially unable to work due to the family’s immigration status. Dela’s mom eventually earned a licensed practical nurse credential, while her dad began pursuing a postsecondary degree during Dela’s middle school years and eventually earned a master’s degree in accounting and business administration.
“He knew the only means to provide the lifestyle that he wanted for his family was to pursue a higher education,” Dela said of her father. “Education also gave my mom a voice, it gave her status, and it gave her the opportunity to make something out of herself.”
Dela says that mindset was a major motivating factor throughout her middle school and high school years. The odds were not in her favor growing up in Okeechobee County; only 18.6% of working-age Okeechobee residents currently hold a postsecondary degree or credential. That figure ranks 54th out of 67 counties and is well behind Florida’s overall 52.7% degree attainment rate.
“I tried my best to use the tool that education is, to push myself, network, and find the means to really make something of myself,” Dela said. She added that it was sometimes challenging to find the encouragement and affirmation necessary to overcome some of the barriers students of color face in education. “Even representation among my teachers was lacking. I believe throughout my schooling in Okeechobee I interacted with only five teachers who looked like me, and most of them were not my direct teachers.”
After graduating from Okeechobee High School, Dela enrolled at USF where she recently earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences. Although the university is located in the same state she grew up in, Dela says USF unlocked a new world.
“I loved the community, and the diversity was not something I saw in my own county,” Dela said. “It wasn’t just being among people who looked like me, but also being around people who had different ways of thinking really excited me.”
Finding your educational path in college
Despite her excitement about college life and eagerness to learn, Dela said it wasn’t exactly a seamless transition.
“My first semester, I felt a lot of imposter syndrome just because everyone around me seemed to have opportunities throughout their high school career that I did not,” she said. “It was a lot of culture shock to navigate classroom and course materials that I wasn’t necessarily exposed to living in a rural community.”
Even Dela’s seemingly solid plan to enroll in medical school after completing her undergraduate degree underwent a change once she was exposed to different options and points of view.
“I was very type-A and came to college with a set plan, but I learned there were just so many different opportunities than what I was exposed to in high school,” Dela said. Those opportunities include a new career path, which Dela discovered through her public health classes at USF. “It was a perspective I wasn’t even aware of, and I realized I’d rather devote my life to understanding populations and preventing illnesses than to individually practicing medicine.”
Education leads to greater opportunities
Dela says her ultimate goal is to work for the United Nations as a maternal and child health epidemiologist.
“I really have a heart for underserved populations,” Dela said. “I want to help with educating the children in those communities, along with working with mothers and being a voice for them.”
In addition to placing her on a career path she is passionate about, Dela says her college years have also helped prepare her to thrive in a variety of different situations.
“In college, I’ve been able to explore so many different social environments that I might never get to explore as a grown-up,” said Dela, who also works at USF’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and oversees its iBuddy program, which partners domestic and international students to increase cultural awareness. “Without education, I wouldn’t be able to engage in so many opportunities I’ve always wanted to my entire life.”
FCAN believes that in order to build a Talent Strong Florida with a strong, nimble economy, all Floridians need access to high-quality training and learning opportunities after high school and throughout their careers. Visit FCAN’s Talent Strong Florida page to learn if your community is talent strong!
Learn more about Talent Strong Florida
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The Students Who Make Florida Talent Strong: Marquis McGary and Florentina Denis-McGary