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Ayi D’Almeida Takes A Rewarding Journey Into Higher Education

Starting a new life in a country on the other side of the planet requires a blend of practical skills, emotional resilience, self-reliance and mental agility. Aims Community College student Ayi Roxan Luciano D’Almeida knows this from personal experience. 

Ayi D’Almeida

He arrived in America six years ago and strongly possesses all of these qualities. Ayi came here alone with a goal to make his life better for himself and his family. He has accelerated his prospects in the United States by pursuing higher education at Aims. 

Ayi moved from Benin in West Africa to Greeley in 2017. At that time, he could only speak French. “When I landed in the U.S., I could not speak a word of English,” he said. Ayi taught himself the language by listening to rap music and watching Netflix. “It's quite complicated to adjust to this language.”

He wasn’t confident in his speaking of fear of someone making fun of him. Ayi changed his perspective on English through conversations with “people who wanted to help me evolve.” He says that you need to be willing to make a mistake, or you will stagnate and not get better. “Somebody not speaking this language doesn't mean that they’re not smart. They just need to help you to get there.” His growing language skills were one of the first steps that helped Ayi thrive in the U.S. 

Ayi worked difficult, labor-intensive jobs when he first came to the U.S. He lost one job and got another, and on the first day of the new job, he got injured. In the hospital, they told Ayi that if the injury didn’t heal properly, he wouldn’t be able to find another job. Ayi was under pressure and didn’t want to be a liability for his roommates or unable to send support to his family back in Benin.

“I had to be a rock, and I made the decision to go back to college.” 

It is a choice that he is proud of, and this turn toward higher education made him unstoppable. Ayi believes in trying new things, whether moving to a new country or returning to school. He firmly believes, "If I don’t try, I would never know.” 

Finding Mentorship and Support at Aims

Ayi needed to do something different with his life, and on May 6, 2021, he came to Aims to explore education options. On that day, he met academic advisor Jamie Viefhaus-Zak and a friendship and mentorship relationship was formed. 

Viefhaus-Zak was impressed by Ayi on this first meeting when he shared his knowledge, education and upbringing. “It was clear that this young man was intelligent, well-spoken and highly motivated,” she said. 

He was also grateful to meet Viefhaus-Zak and her role in helping him navigate his Aims journey. “Jamie did a lot of work for me, guided me, pushed me and gave me advice.” Her support gave him a boost of confidence needed to excel in his classes. 

She encouraged Ayi to take the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) to get credit for knowledge of the French language. CLEP is a group of standardized exams that assess college-level knowledge in thirty-six subject areas and provide a mechanism for earning college credits without taking college courses. “It is a great way for students to honor and get credit for the knowledge they have,” Viefhaus-Zak said. Ayi passed the test and received college credit for French fluency. 

Ayi and Viefhaus-Zak met regularly and even kept in touch through Zoom when he went back to visit his family in Benin. Viefhaus-Zak admits that advising Ayi has been a shining light in her career. “Ayi is a blessing and a reminder that Aims is a great place, and I am proud to be an Aardvark,” she said. 

Ayi also found a connection as part of the Finish What You Started (FWYS) Program at Aims. FWYS is a statewide program that provides adults with scholarship funding and support to return to college and complete their credentials. FWYS Program Coordinator Gabriela Sanchez has also noticed Ayi’s exceptional qualities when working with him. “Ayi epitomizes everything our best students are: resilient, determined, unstoppable, and overall a great person with strong family values and outstanding work ethic.” 

He appreciates both Viefhaus-Zak and Sanchez, “I didn't have any complications per se at Aims because I had Gabby and Jamie helping me out, being gentle, it was heartwarming.”

Jamie Viefhaus-Zak and Ayi D’Almeida

Succeeding Academically and Growing Passions

Once Ayi began classes, he was pleasantly surprised, “I didn't know that it would be such a thrilling adventure.” One of the first courses that Ayi took at Aims was English Composition and it set a positive course for his academic path. “Sometimes, they say that the first impression that you have when you get into a journey defines everything you will do until the end,” he said. “For me, it was that class.” He says that the professor was great and extremely supportive. “I just thought to myself that I could do it because of the way that I was received.”

Once this strong foundation was set, Ayi developed a deeper understanding of subjects he appreciated and found new interests. “I’ve just been trying to hone my skills,” Ayi said. “I've been infatuated with different things.” Ayi wants to learn a lot of things to be able to prove that he isn’t limited to one type of job or career. He is also excelling in all of these areas as he maintains a 3.5+ cumulative GPA. In December, Ayi will graduate with a Liberal Arts associate degree with a designation in psychology. That is a field that he’s always been interested in, striving to understand new perspectives on how the mind works.

Once Ayi completes his associate degree, that doesn’t mean that his Aims journey will be over. He will complete the Audio Production Certificate and Video and Television Production Certificate in Spring 2024. Ayi is enjoying the Television Studio Production class this semester, learning the principles and getting hands-on experience with commercial video production equipment; it is one of his favorite classes he has ever taken. 

Ayi also plans to enroll at the University of Northern Colorado to pursue a bachelor's degree in psychology in Fall 2024.

His story is a testament to the power of determination and a positive mental outlook. 

“You never know exactly what you are capable of unless you try. Just push yourself up all the way to the edge and see if you fall over the cliff, you might grow some wings.”