Ivan Sekyonda, who will receive his master's degree in computer engineering, has helped new international students as part of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services staff.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Commencement 2014 profile: Ivan Sekyonda
May 12, 2014Tweet
The Ugandan student was arriving at Binghamton University for summer orientation in 2007 when he looked out his cab window and noticed a building unlike any he had seen before.
“The Events Center was the first thing that jumped out to me,” Ivan Sekyonda said. “I looked up and thought: ‘Oh my God! This is actually on a college campus!’ It’s such a great building.”
Sekyonda was even more dazzled as he continued the ride around campus.
“At the time, the structure of the buildings and the environments seemed out of this world to me,” he said. “It was exciting. I could not wait to explore.”
Nearly seven years later, Sekyonda has done more than merely explore. He received his undergraduate degree in computer engineering in 2011 and will receive his master’s degree in computer engineering this month. The 27-year-old also has provided advice and assistance to new international students as part of the staff in the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).
Born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, Sekyonda got his first computer at age 13.
“Right off the bat, it always came easy to me,” he said. “I could sit there and figure out problems easily. It was just natural to go down the computer-engineering path. It combines both hardware and software and I like the idea of doing both.”
After graduating from high school, Sekyonda moved from Uganda to London and began applying to U.S. schools. An aunt who lives on Long Island told him about Binghamton and Sekyonda chose the University based on its value and proximity to his family, he said.
“Coming here, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But ISSS did a good job at orientation. They were friendly and made us welcome. It was great to look around and see all of the other international students.”
In the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, Sekyonda soon found support from Associate Professor Douglas Summerville.
“There were times I thought I was doing poorly or I just needed help,” he said. “Other schools have the curriculum, but it’s more than that here. It’s like a family.”
Sekyonda took a position within ISSS in 2009, starting as a leadership volunteer before becoming e-mail manager. When Sekyonda returned to pursue a master’s degree, the 27-year-old was named an ISSS graduate assistant.
“I don’t think I will ever find a job as good as this one, in terms of the people I am working with,” he said. “It’s been one of best parts about being at Binghamton. I’ve made good friends here and the staff is great. Knowing that I’m helping people who at one point were in my position feels great.”
Reaching out to those at new international student orientation is something Sekyonda not only enjoys doing, but he believes is necessary.
“I’ve been in their shoes,” he said. “I know what they are feeling. It’s always nice to talk to them, hear their stories, see how they got here and just help them feel comfortable. I want to start their Binghamton experience with something positive. To brighten a student’s day – that in itself is enough of a reward for me.”
ISSS Director Patricia Marrapese said she considers herself fortunate to have worked with Sekyonda.
“My working relationship with Ivan has been unique, in that I accepted the position of director of the ISSS in January 2013, and he had already been working in the office since 2009,” Marrapese said. “There were times in the beginning when he was truly teaching me existing internal policy, and he did so with kindness, grace and a humbleness that is often a rare-found trait.
“As the e-mail coordinator, he and I work side-by-side on a daily basis, answering every inquiry that comes in from students, scholars, faculty, staff and community members, which allows us to really keep a pulse on the hot topics that come up throughout the year. … Though we are sad to see him leave, we have no doubt that he will go on to do extraordinary things.”
When he is not taking classes or working with younger students, Sekyonda enjoys running. He has run in half-marathons in Binghamton over the past two years and even participated in a 200-mile race in New Hampshire. Sekyonda also enjoys acting and took part in Bard in the Yard productions on campus as an undergraduate.
Sekyonda, who spent a year after receiving his undergraduate degree working for the Lloyd Group, a tech support firm in New York City, said he would like to work as a computer engineer for a U.S. company. His long-term career goal is to start a non-profit that will enable Ugandan youth to have access to computers.
Before he starts any job, though, Sekyonda plans to attend one last orientation for new international students at Binghamton University.
His parting piece of advice?
“Be open to experiences,” he said. “Be willing to experience other cultures, people around you and learn from them. Don’t lock yourself in your room and close yourself off. There’s a lot that Binghamton University and the United States as a whole have to offer.”