When Tafara Ushendibaba made the decision to attend Fairmont State to pursue a business degree in information systems management, he did so sight unseen. Thousands of miles across ocean waters separated the University’s campus from Ushendibaba’s home in Zimbabwe, but his older brother Tatenda and older sister Tendai, who had made their ways to Fairmont years earlier for their own educational pursuits, vouched for the school on the hilltop.
“My siblings put in a good recommendation,” said Ushendibaba.
Before arriving in the United States, Ushendibaba said his perception of the country was largely informed by what he saw on movie screens – busy city streets, tall skyscrapers and flashing lights.
“When I came here to Fairmont State, it was my first time in the country. After seeing the United States in pictures or in movies, I expected a place like New York City,” said Ushendibaba. “To my surprise, Fairmont was the total opposite, but it ended up becoming a place I really enjoy and holds a memorable place in my heart.”
Upon his arrival, Ushendibaba quickly immersed himself in his new home by seeking an opportunity as a resident assistant for on-campus housing. Ushendibaba spent his first semester as an RA in Bryant Place before moving to University Terrace, which he has called his home for the past three years.
“The RA position was an opportunity for me to learn more about people in America from a student point of view,” he said. “Having come far away from home, being an RA enabled me to learn, grow and work on a team. It has given me independence and the chance to provide a safe living learning environment for residents. To me, it’s not just a job; it comes from my heart and my desire to help other students.”
Ushendibaba also found a sense of community through his bonds with other international students on campus and through his involvement with Chi Alpha, a Christian-based student organization focused on worship and fellowship. Ushendibaba said his time with Chi Alpha strengthened his faith while simultaneously affording him the chance to explore a new country. From a weekend retreat in Washington D.C. to a spring break mission trip in Niagara Falls, Ushendibaba was able to experience a different culture while finding his purpose.
“I had a really fun time doing missionary work and spreading the gospel while hanging out with my friends,” he said.
When he wasn’t traveling, Ushendibaba found plenty of ways to enjoy his local surroundings, from visiting state parks and playing pick-up soccer games in the Falcon Center to seeking some much-needed peace and quiet near the fountain in the Education Quad. Ushendibaba also made the most of his education by applying the material he learned in class to his job as a tech commons student worker.
“It’s a field I’m really passionate about,” said Ushendibaba. “I’m interested in the impact of implementing technology into an organization, and I’ve had experiences with that both in class and from the work I do at the student help desk.”
Ushendibaba hopes to translate the knowledge and skillset he developed under the tutelage of influential mentors like Professors Gary Edwards, Rebecca Giorcelli and Janet Floyd, into a career designing software applications and systems for clients. And as Ushendibaba gets ready to walk across the graduation stage, diploma in hand, this weekend, he offered a few words of advice to his fellow Falcons who will follow in his footsteps in the years to come:
“Have fun, but remember what you’re here for,” he said. “Get good grades and earn some work experience. These four years will determine how far you go in the long run, so plan wisely.”