Emmanuella Bonga Bikele ‘13C
Emmanuella Bonga Bikele ‘13C still remembers her first day at St. John’s University, when she unpacked her bags in her dorm room, and then packed them up again. “I accepted my admission offer late and it didn’t look like my financial aid would come through in time,” she said. But after some help from Nemaris Rodriguez, associate director of Financial Aid on the Staten Island Campus, Bonga Bikele was able to unpack her bags for good. “It was a miracle! I am so, so grateful to her.”
Rodriguez was one of the many mentors and friends that made her four years at SJU a meaningful experience for Bonga Bikele. She also gratefully remembers the time she sprained her ankle stepping off the shuttle bus and Public Safety drove her everywhere on campus for a week. “In a school so big and so diverse, these are moments and people that stay with you.”
Bonga Bikele immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2005 with her mother and two sisters. Her father, a pastor, had already come to the U.S. to begin building a life here. After attending a high school in the Bronx – New Covenant Christian School – with three other students in her graduating class, Bonga Bikele was ready for a new adventure. “I wanted to go someplace larger but not that typical college experience you see on television and in the movies, with huge dorms that are overwhelming,” she said. “I chose SJU’s Staten Island campus because it’s a smaller part of a bigger University.”
When she declared Chemistry as her major, Bonga Bikele started taking the shuttle bus to the Queens campus quite often. After taking Honors Core English Composition with Associate Professor David G. Farley, Ph.D., who remarked upon her potential with writing, she became a tutor in the University Writing Center. Bonga Bikele began working at the Writing Center on both the Queens and Staten Island campuses, a position that served as her home base. “Everyone there was so smart and diverse,” said Bonga Bikele. “I met some of my closest friends through the Writing Center.”
In her junior year, she changed her major to Sociology and declared a minor in Rhetoric and Public Address. “I’ve always been interested in communication, but the more theoretical aspects of it: how to use language to craft an argument,” she said. Through the minor, she met Associate Professor John Greg, Ph.D., and Professor Michael J. Hostetler, Ph.D. Both faculty members served as mentors for Bonga Bikele, and encouraged her to pursue graduate school in politics, nudging her toward Georgetown University and a career in international affairs. “I was happy to have professors who were so clear on what would and wouldn’t work for me at a time when I was so confused,” she said.
“Every professor wants students who have intelligence, curiosity, and academic skills. Emmanuella has all of these,” said Hostetler. “But there is another intangible quality that is often overlooked --enthusiasm. Her enthusiasm for learning and life sets her apart and will help ensure her future success.” Added Greg, who taught Bonga Bikele in a course entitled Decision-Making Discussion: “The topic selected for the course that semester was the granting of legal status to undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Emmanuella’s grasp of the theory of policy analysis, her skill in logical outlining and organization, and her persuasiveness in oral argument was extraordinary. She approached each discussion as if it had real world significance, and her attitude seemed to ‘rub off’ on other members of the group, leading to some rather vigorous exchanges among them and enhancing the quality of the decisions that they made.”
Thanks to the guidance of Greg and Hostetler, Bonga Bikele completed a Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown in May 2016, and is now serving in Hong Kong through Princeton in Asia, an organization that promotes the exchange of ideas between Eastern and Western cultures through service and immersion experiences. She will remain in Hong Kong until September 2017 before moving on to another year-long post. Her current post requires her to do research on policy and foreign affairs for the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
“It’s been a humbling experience,” she said of the fellowship so far. “I’m just trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can, and I feel lucky to be able to learn about the region first-hand. It reminds me that even after graduate school, there’s always an opportunity to learn more. Whatever I do in my career going forward, I know I won’t settle in a place of feeling like an expert. I want flexibility, the ability to learn, and room for growth.”
Outside of the classroom at SJU, Bonga Bikele was involved in Magnificat Gospel Choir, which she directed for the fall 2011 semester, and the Vincentian Initiative to Advanced Leadership (VITAL). She remembers VITAL as a “centering, reflective outlet” based on the Vincentian Catholic tradition of intentional reflection. VITAL pushed her to meditate on three important questions: what do you like, what are you good at, and what does the world need?
Bonga Bikele remains connected to her time at St. John’s (her sister, Joyce Bonga ‘18CPS, is currently a junior). “When I really have something to give back to SJU, I’ll be back,” she said. It seems quite clear to those who’ve worked with her closely what Bonga Bikele is good at, and we look forward to her discovering what the world needs from her as she continues to reflect, learn, and grow.