From Nigeria to Camden:

Excellence Guided by Family, Faith, and Dreams

Growing up in an academic household with both parents as professors, Jochebed Peace Airede felt destined to pursue higher education. 

At Rutgers–Camden, Airede, an international student from Nigeria, has succeeded academically and is a leader on campus. She was selected to speak at the university’s inaugural Fall Convocation ceremony to mark the beginning of the academic year, sharing her inspiring story as an international student and her journey to college in the United States.

Airede’s parents sent her to private schools in Nigeria to prepare her to attend college in the United States. In Airede’s final year in high school (called senior secondary school in Nigeria), she applied to ten U.S. colleges and universities but was not accepted. “The rejections felt like a nullification of everything that I was,” said Airede. “With my future uncertain, I started to wonder what my next step would be.”

Airede and her mother soon found Rutgers. Airede’s mother had a dream that included the words, “New Brunswick,” so they decided to use that as a search term when looking for a college. Airede discovered a university in the Canadian province of New Brunswick and applied. She also applied to several other U.S. universities, and while she was waiting to hear from them, her mother found that Rutgers University is located in New Brunswick, N.J. After applying to Rutgers–New Brunswick, Airede saw that Rutgers has two other locations, so she applied and was accepted to all three. She chose to come to South Jersey since Rutgers–Camden offered her a full scholarship.

In Airede’s first year at Rutgers–Camden, the Honors College student took classes remotely from Nigeria due to pandemic restrictions. When she arrived on campus for the first time in August of 2021, Airede found community through campus organizations, such as the Salvation House of Prayer (S.H.O.P.), a faith-based campus group.

“My friends from S.H.O.P. were some of the first people I felt I could truly be myself around," said Airede. “I didn't have to conceal my Nigerian accent from them, and we could always find strength in praying about the stresses of college life together.” She met other international students in the dorm and developed friendships with classmates.

Airede later learned that she has an aunt and uncle who live in Williamstown. Her aunt is a Rutgers–Camden alumna, and her uncle works nearby at Cooper Hospital. “I have a family to spend weekends with when the semester becomes stressful, as well as major holidays that might remind me of my family back home,” said Airede.

As a resident assistant in the dorms, Airede is giving back to the campus community. “I wanted to help residents feel at home because I didn't feel that way at first when I started living on campus," she said. “I want to help students to feel connected to campus and know that there was someone here to advocate for them." 

A prolific writer who aspires to become an investigative journalist, Airede, now a junior majoring in English, serves as editor for the Undergraduate Review, a student-led Honors College journal that showcases the talents of Rutgers-Camden students. During Airede’s time on campus, she has worked as a teaching assistant for Lee Ann Westman in the “Global Gender Issues” course. “Working with Dr. Westman was a huge stepping stone to my learning that it was possible to collaborate with a professor you respect, but who also respects you,” said Airede. It was Westman who recommended to Airede to apply to speak at Convocation.

Shortly before Convocation in early September, Airede decided to take a last-minute trip to Nigeria to visit her family, which gave her an opportunity to relax and prepare the speech with her mother. “It was a privilege and a gift to work on my speech with my mother, who’s always been one of the greatest champions and editors of my written work,” said Airede. “We planned the outfit that I would wear together, purchasing new dresses whose tie-dye patterns reflected my Nigerian nationality."

When Airede stepped onto the stage wearing a purple and white tie-dye dress, she displayed pride in her homeland and shared the joys of her new community. “Through Rutgers–Camden, I found my chosen family,” Airede said.

Creative Design: Beatris Santos
Photography: Ron Downes Jr.

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