Texas A&M University-Kingsville Texas A&M-Kingsville graduate's walk across the stage small by comparison
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Texas A&M-Kingsville graduate's walk across the stage small by comparison

Posted on Friday, December 09, 2016

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When Burabari Kponi walks across the stage at Texas A&M University-Kingsville to receive her bachelor’s degree in natural gas engineering, it won’t be the longest walk of her life. Over two decades ago, Kponi was three years old and living in her village of Mogo Gokana, Nigeria.

She was too young to remember much from that time, but the Nigerian military descended on her village in the middle of the night. Burabari and her family were able to safely flee, but her village was destroyed and many lost their lives.

“One thing I do know is that during that time there was a civil war going on between my tribe and another. The government was involved but the difference was that they were the worst because they didn’t spare any life,” she said.

Her family was able to escape, but then faced a walk of hundreds of miles on bare feet to the neighboring country of Benin. They then spent the next four years living in a refugee camp in Benin under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

A little older, Burabari remembers more of that time. “The living situation was awful. Imagine a box, our house was like a box, with no electricity, no easy access to water. All that was in the house was one bed for a family of seven.

When Burabari was seven, her family, still all together, was brought to the United States to live in Houston. She had never attended school, but was enrolled in third grade. Reading, spelling and pronouncing English words was frightening to her because it was so difficult.

“My third grade teacher, Mr. Spellman, was kind to me. His father, a pre-kindergarten teacher, volunteered to help teach me English after school. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mr. Spellman,” Burabari said.

She also said she struggled for a time, trying to relate to the new American culture she was living in.

Burabari has a passion and drive for leadership which began at Elsik High School in Houston and continues today. “I participated in a lot of extracurricular activities in high school. I am really big on leadership and it all started in high school,” she said. “I ran track for the whole four years as well as played basketball, volleyball and tennis.

“I have a passion when it comes to student organizations so I have always taken higher roles such as president in all the organizations I was in,” she said.

At Texas A&M-Kingsville, Burabari is currently president of the Engineering Student Council and she was president of the National Society of Black Engineers for two years. “I actually started that organization gaining about 75 members in two months,” she said.

She also has been active in the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. In addition to her natural gas engineering major, she studied toward minors in geology and nuclear engineering. Burabari continues to work as a research intern for the university’s physics and geosciences department.

It was scholarships that enabled Burabari to attend college. She received the Linda Lorelle Scholarship, Comcast Scholarship, Buda Scholarship, Optimistic Scholarship, Urban Scholarship and Road Runner Scholarship.

Burabari will take a short holiday break from her studies and then return to A&M-Kingsville to begin working on her master’s degree in industrial engineering. She said after she completes her master’s degree, she will be looking for companies that share and have the same set of values that she has. “I have a passion for leadership. I would love to be a part of an organization that values leadership.

 “I have a lot of experience and different skills that I have acquired through my college career and I would love to use those skills with a company that would value it as I help them to grow,” she said.

She chose Texas A&M-Kingsville originally because  of the quality of the engineering program and because she received a scholarship, but over her years here, she realized she made the right choice for other reasons.

“This school itself is amazing! It is not overly big and it is not small. It is just perfect and I knew at the time that’s just what I was looking for in a university and it was perfect for me.

“I didn’t have a normal childhood, but at the same time, I didn’t allow my circumstance to define who I am or who I wanted to become. The thing is I found who I am through the help of the Holy Spirit. I always remind myself that my life is in the hands of God and that as long as I continue to do the right thing by staying motivated, focused, hardworking and thrive to succeed that my tomorrow will be brighter,” she said.


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