From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Burundi to the United States, Fidele Mugisha’s path to Carolina has certainly been a winding one.
Thanks to his own perseverance and support from the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program and the Carolina Covenant, Fidele expects to graduate from Carolina in 2021 with a degree in business administration. Then it’s on to an illustrious career in finance.
But his journey hasn’t been straight, traditional or easy.
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Fidele’s family sought refuge in Burundi for almost 14 years before settling in Durham, North Carolina, in 2015. Fidele had studied finance and accounting at a university in Burundi and hoped to continue his education in the U.S.
Yet there were quite a few obstacles in his way: primarily, learning a new language and the cost of tuition.
“We were fortunate enough to be moved to the United States,” shared Fidele, “but when I came here, I didn’t speak English very well; I’m a French speaker and all my previous classes had been taught in French. I also needed to work to help my family. I’m the oldest of nine, so I never expected my parents to pay for my education.”
Despite these barriers, Fidele was determined to continue his studies. He started taking classes at Durham Technical Community College while working part time jobs at a golf course to help support his family.
At Durham Tech, he heard about the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, which guarantees talented, low- and moderate-income high school and community college students eventual admission to Carolina if they meet admission requirements and successfully complete the community college portion of the program. Fidele applied to Carolina through C-STEP and was accepted.
“I was excited to be accepted,” shared Fidele. “I was taking classes, keeping up good grades, participating in community services and my English was improving. But I was still worried about finances — How would I pay for school?”
Fidele reached out to the UNC Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid and discovered that he qualified for the Carolina Covenant, which covered his full financial needs through grants, scholarships and work-study — no loans!
“C-STEP and the Carolina Covenant are the reason I’m at UNC,” said Fidele. “Even though I was excited to be accepted, it would have been impossible for me to come and be able to live on campus, where I have had so many opportunities.”
Fidele is now taking full advantage of those opportunities. He was accepted into the Undergraduate Business Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler his junior year, and he’s participated in two internships, one at Morgan Creek Capital Management and one at Wells Fargo. In spring 2020, he studied abroad in the United Kingdom at the University of Manchester. And he has built a community through his membership in RUF, a Christian campus ministry, and his volunteer service with the Refugee Community Partnership, where he works as a bridge builder and helps refugee families.
“I am fully enjoying my time here at UNC,” shared Fidele. “Being able to take advantage of all of these opportunities is incredible.”
While Fidele is proud to have the opportunity to attend Carolina and enjoys representing the University as a Tar Heel, he admits it hasn’t been easy.
“Everyone I meet, when I say I go to UNC, they’re like ‘wow.’ That reflects my work ethic, and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life,” said Fidele. “But as a transfer student, before you come to UNC, you might feel like you’re a genius in class. You quickly learn that UNC is more challenging than other places — even my study abroad classes were much easier than the ones here. I’ve developed the skill of being comfortable doing what’s uncomfortable, something we’re encouraged to embrace at the business school. It pushes me to get outside my comfort zone, and I’ve learned a lot from being challenged by my peers.”
Much like Fidele’s path to Carolina, he said his path through Carolina hasn’t been a straight one.
“It’s hard, and there have been a lot of bumps in the road. But I will not give up, especially knowing that there are people who care and are willing to invest in me. I want to thank all the people who continue to invest in students whose parents can’t help them with their college education. When I get to that position where I can give back, I will do the same.”