By Maria Teresa Arias
Student Tonychris Nnaka leans against the wall in the Student Life office, joking around with Daniel Marold, Student Government Association president. Nnaka is comfortable, but he is a long way from his native Onitsha, Nigeria.
Nnaka, 20, arrived in the United States in fall of 2010. His goal was to study at Brookhaven College for one year and transfer to a university to pursue a nursing degree.
“I was one of those students who did not get involved on campus,” Nnaka said. “I came to college. I went to my classes. I spent most of my time by myself. And then I went home.”
The same semester of his arrival, Nnaka joined the Student Leadership Institute and became the Student Government vice president. He then joined the International Club and was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa for Spring 2011.
Nnaka has attended several state conferences as a student advocate and is now Speaker of the Senate at the Texas College Student Government regional level.
The time and dedication seem to have paid off, as Nnaka was recently recognized with the Amidon-Beauchamp Student Leader of the Year Award from the Dallas County Community College District. The award is presented annually to one student who stands out for his or her leadership skills, academic achievements, campus and social involvement and community service.
Marold, last year’s winner of the award, said he is glad to have Nnaka among the Amidon-Beauchamp winners. “Working with him is great; everything you needed, he got it done,” Marold said. “He’s very efficient.”
Soon after Nnaka’s arrival, his father died, and he said depression pushed him to get involved in everything he could. “I did not want to think about the loss of my father, so I spent most of my time here in Student Life,” he said.
When Nnaka first came to Brookhaven, he found it difficult to communicate in English.
“I did speak English before I came here, but not the way I do now,” he said. “I know how hard it was for me to be fluent, so after taking English 1301, my English was good enough for me to join a conversational partner group.”
Nnaka lives 40 miles from Brookhaven and takes the bus to campus.
He works in Student Life and said he loves helping students to the best of his abilities. He said he sees the people he works with as family.
Dominica McCarthy, student program development specialist, works with Nnaka in Student Life and said it is great to work with him. She said he takes initiative and completes tasks before somebody asks him.
“He is not only taking 18 credit hours and working here in Student Life, but he is also part of several committees,” McCarthy said. “He was part of the student committee that interviewed me.”
Yasaman Contractor, assistant director of Student Life and SGA adviser, met Nnaka almost two years ago and wrote the recommendation letter for his application for the Amidon-Beauchamp award.
“He is a hardworking young man, and the level of respect he gives to the staff and his fellow students is important in life,” she said. “To care about other people is a great quality to possess.”
Nnaka said he misses his family. He plans to return home when he has accomplished something they will be proud of.
He plans to transfer to the University of Texas at Arlington to complete his degree in nursing and molecular biology or get his associate’s degree in science by spring 2013, if he is not awarded a scholarship from UTA.
After completing his double major, Nnaka said he wants to be able to give something back to Brookhaven.
Nnaka advised students to get involved because it allows people to see what they are capable of and makes them stand out.
“When you go through a lot of stressful things, those things push you forward, they make you do stuff, but sometimes you have got to push yourself, challenge yourself,” Nnaka said. “Something pushed me, but most of the time, you just have to do it yourself. It is all up to you.”