Two TTU master's candidates learn that graduation is physical and spiritual path

Graduation marks the beginning of an important life journey, and two minority students at Tennessee Tech University are realizing the path of that journey is both physical and spiritual.

Kewon Foster and Dina Machuve will both earn master’s degrees from TTU on May 3 — Foster in instructional leadership and Machuve in electrical engineering.

Following commencement, Foster’s journey will then take him to Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, where he will work toward earning his master’s degree in divinity.

He hopes to eventually earn a doctorate in theology and teach at a seminary.

Machuve, who will become TTU’s first graduate from the African country of Tanzania, plans to return home for the summer before coming back to the university in the fall to pursue a doctoral degree.

She says she eventually hopes to return permanently to Tanzania and teach electrical engineering at a university there.

Although both were strangers to the community when they first enrolled at TTU, they quickly found faculty and friends who welcomed them with support and encouragement, they say.

“Before I enrolled as a student at TTU in Fall 2006, I had never before been to the United States,” Machuve said, “but everyone in Cookeville has been very friendly and supportive throughout my time here. Without that support, I wouldn’t have come this far.”

Foster, a native of Tampa, Fla., agreed. “Faith, grace and mercy have definitely carried my family and me on and through our journey here,” he said. “People have welcomed us with open arms, and we’ve made some friendships that I expect to be lifelong relationships.”

Football was the catalyst that brought him to TTU. Although he played for only a year in high school, he was able to continue playing the sport at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi.

“It was also in Mississippi that I began to realize God had a strong call in my life, leading me to the ministry,” he said.

But a football scholarship brought him to TTU. The first year was difficult, he admits, because his family had to be separated. His wife, Idalmis, was still working on her undergraduate degree in Florida, and their infant daughter, Saniah, was in the care of her grandparents.

His family has since joined him, and his wife has even earned her master’s degree in business administration from TTU.

As Foster’s education has progressed, his grade-point average has improved, from a 2.0 his senior year in high school to a 2.8 when he earned his undergraduate degree in sociology.

When he walks across the stage on May 3 to earn his master’s degree, he will do so with a 3.9 GPA. He says several faculty members in the College of Education served as mentors, helping to motivate his success. They include interim dean Larry Peach, curriculum and instruction professor Thomas Reddick and especially curriculum and instruction associate professor Oneida Martin and former administrator Leo McGee.

Perhaps best of all, however, will be having his mother, Katherine Dula, among the audience at the Hooper Eblen Center.

“She was a single mom who worked hard to raise me, so my accomplishments are a tribute to her hard work, dedication and influence,” he said. “It’s nice to know that I’m serving as a positive example for my own daughter too.”

As for Machuve, the eldest of four daughters of a retired teacher and medical doctor, she earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania before embarking on her journey to the United States and to TTU.

“When I told my parents that I had decided to continue my education in the United States at TTU, they were worried for me because I didn’t know anyone here, but they were still very supportive of my decision,” she said.

She too found mentors at the university and in the College of Engineering to help ease her transition into a foreign culture and help pave the way for her success.

They include electrical and computer engineering chairperson Stephen Parke, associate professors Jeffrey Austen and Robert Qiu, professors P.K. Rajan and Joseph Ojo, and associate vice president for research and graduate studies Francis Otuonye.

“I’ve learned a lot from all of them. They’ve really groomed me well for my continued studies and my career,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for that kind of support, I don’t know if I would have the technical skills or the confidence to continue my education.”

Her dream is to one day return to the University of Dar es Salaam as a professor.

“My experience has been so positive here that I’d like to help other young students by grooming them to succeed too,” she said. “I want to share my knowledge and experience with others, and encourage them to follow their dream of continuing their education in the United States, maybe even at TTU."

One of the greatest advantages of having been here is her growth and personal development. “I’m definitely not the same person I was two years ago,” she said.

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