As a well-traveled West Africa native whose is fluent in French, five West African indigenous languages, and English, and with arguably the highest profile job a student can have on campus—president of Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) —it would seem Djeneba Myriam Coulibaly just stormed onto the scene at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Coulibaly, who was born in Abidjan, the economic and former official capital of Ivory Coast, was more than a little shy when she arrived at the CSU Dominguez Hills.
“I was very, very introverted. You couldn’t get a word out of me. When you talked to me I’d have my head down,” the senior business administration major revealed.
She has since found her voice. The turning point came during her second semester when the director of the American Language Cultural Program suggested she apply to be an international student representative for ASI. She did, and was selected, and has since served as ASI student activities commissioner and its vice president of academic affairs before students elected her last spring as the 2012-13 president.
As ASI’s leader and its most vigorous ambassador, she aims to familiarize students with what ASI actually does and the resources it offers, from exercise activities and a laptop loan program through the library to providing free Scantrons and a chance to win free tuition through its Toro Tuesday scholarship program.
ASI allocates $400,000 each year—a portion of the $135 students pay in fees—to fund the technology referendum program to make technology improvements on campus. Coulibaly said portions of the fees also support internal ASI operations, the Toro Learning Center, the Multicultural Center, the Athletics Department, KDHR campus radio, and the Child Development Center.
“If you look at any other states in the country, nobody has that kind of program—that California has. No one,” she said. “They do have student organizations, but not to the extent that they are recognized by the chancellors and trustees, or are incorporated; to hold that such an amount of money and be able to develop themselves.”
And with California higher education in mind, during this election season she has devoted efforts toward voter registration.
“We just want to make sure our students are educated enough to know what’s going on, to make sure that they’re making the right decision,” she said, stressing that although she isn’t trying to influence which way students vote, she wants them to know that Proposition 30 may effect a $150 tuition increase, per semester.
She said, with the help of a “voter information” web banner placed on the university’s homepage—something ASI initiated—the organization has gotten the word out and she estimates its representatives and volunteers have registered about 400 students since September.
However, Coulibaly’s foremost goal is to help University Interim President Willie Hagan in his efforts to improve graduation rates and to provide students with skills to help them secure good jobs after they graduate.
“That’s something that really spoke to me as Dr. Hagan has repeated it,” Coulibay said, adding that providing professional experiences leading toward student engagement and graduation could be accomplished through ASI resources and programs, internships, and by creating new learning laboratories on campus and developing the CSU Dominguez Hills alumni population.
And Coulibaly knows about thing or two about student engagement.
“My dad has always taught me that being good in school is a value that will never fade. Yes, at the end of the day, you only get a paper [diploma], but that representation will pull you through for the rest of your life,” she said. “One thing that I never neglect is my attendance in class. It’s one of the best ways for me to learn, because 90 percent of my knowledge comes from classroom discussion… everything the professor is covering in class.”
Coulibaly has learned plenty outside the classroom, too.
“Prior to coming here, the only knowledge I had of Los Angeles and the U.S. was MTV. To me, it seems like, since Los Angeles is the capital of the entertainment industry, it would look just like the music videos. Little did I know, it’s very different. But, plain old L.A. is just beautiful and there’s people of [different] cultures everywhere,” she said with endearment. “The reason I really appreciate the American society, is the opportunities you can get here. …People look at you for who you are….it doesn’t matter where you come from.”
California wasn’t where Coulibaly expected to find herself when she started making plans to come to the United States. After completing high school she took classes for a year through the International University of Grand-Bassam in Grand-Bassam, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), in a program that offers exchange students to exclusively transfer to the University of Georgia.
With more than a year to go at the university in Grand-Bassam, civil unrest escalating in Ivory Coast, and having relatives in the Los Angeles area, her father urged her to study in California rather than wait to make the transfer to Georgia. She followed his advice and she found the cultural diversity and open-mindedness at CSU Dominguez Hills to be a perfect fit.
“It definitely did affirm my choice to come to the U.S. to pursue my studies,” she asserted.
With an undergraduate degree concentration in finance, Coulibaly plans to go on to earn her MBA or EMBA (executive master’s in business administration), and hopes ultimately to work as a financial analyst, monitoring and affecting stocks and helping clients to prosper.
Until then, she said, “I’m very, very lucky to be on this campus, this office. I have a genuine passion for student government, helping students.”