But on Monday, Miranda Teboh Ewungkem and her husband Julius graduated with a Ph.D. in applied mathematics and a master’s degree in manufacturing systems engineering, respectively.
"I have had a priceless experience at Lehigh," Julius says. "Coming from an underdeveloped country to an industrious country like the U.S., and to study at a prestigious university like Lehigh, has been very fulfilling."
The Ewungkems, originally from the West African nation of Cameroon, earned their undergraduate degrees from the University of Buea. It was while they were attending the university there that Miranda met Edwin Kay, a Lehigh professor of computer science and engineering, who was in Cameroon with the Peace Corps.
Miranda took the class that Kay was teaching and was so impressed that she applied to Lehigh for graduate school and was accepted. Julius soon followed his wife to Bethlehem and applied to the manufacturing systems engineering program. He also was accepted.
"Lehigh has been a very rewarding experience," Miranda says. "Everything from meeting the Kays again to the nice staff at Lehigh made the adjustment easy."
The importance of education
The couple credits the great staff, faculty, and their advisors for helping them succeed at Lehigh. "My experiences in the math department are fun ones with the students, secretaries, coordinators and professors," Miranda says.
"The interaction with my professors has helped me to improve my ideas and I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience in working in teams. I’ve also learned to use my creativity to be more productive," Julius says.
Both attribute much of their academic success to their family upbringings. Each comes from a large family that emphasized at an early age the importance of education.
"My mum is a very intelligent woman who did not have the financial means to go to college," Miranda recalls. "She wanted her children to fulfill the dream of higher education, so she sent my six brothers and sisters and I to the best schools in Cameroon and later paid for all of us to go to college."
Julius says: "My uncle, a high school principal and my mentor, sent me to one of the most prestigious schools in Cameroon. He instilled a lot of discipline in me and helped me to become the person I am today."
Now, with a family of their own, the couple can pass on their educational wisdom to their own children. Their educational pursuits became more challenging after Miranda gave birth to their son, JJ, nine months ago.. But they persevered through a combination of serious time management skills, help from their parents, and their support of each other. Now, with graduation behind them, the Ewungkems can look forward to an almost "normal" life.
Miranda has accepted a one-year position at Lehigh as a visiting assistant professor and her ultimate goal is to combine research and teaching. Julius will continue as a Quality Control and Assurance Analyst at MINRAD, a local pharmaceutical company.
--Y. Sarah Suh