Success & Impact
Mary H. Van Brunt ‘93 (MBA) will become Spring Hill College’s first female president in January 2023. She credits her corporate background with making her a highly effective leader in higher education.
Success & Impact
It was during a career exploration day when Oumou Tounkara ’22 discovered her future path.
Tounkara, a high school student in her home country of Guinea at the time, was paired up with the risk management department of a local bank. A risk analyst introduced her to the ins and outs of risk management and insurance. She found out it was a field where she can combine her love for numbers and analytical thinking with her innate desire to make a difference in the world.
“I realized I could have an impact on so many fields, from banking and nongovernmental organizations to the private sector, and I loved that,” she says.
Now, Tounkara is a junior studying risk management and insurance at Saint Joseph’s University. Last semester, she also declared a double major in business intelligence and analytics and a minor in data science to gain as many skills and knowledge of the corporate world as possible. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also taken on several internships to get a head start in her future career.
Tounkara is embracing all of the opportunities available to her because she has her eyes set on a big goal. She wants to bring everything she’s learned back to Guinea and use it to promote financial and technological literacy in Guinea and the rest of Africa.
I recognize that what I’m doing is a result of all the people who contributed to me, and hopefully one day, I can go back to Guinea and give the same thing to someone else.”
Tounkara credits part of her growing success to Saint Joseph’s, where her two brothers also earned their degrees. She knew she made the right decision to attend the University when she saw a flyer advertising the risk management and insurance program’s top ranking inside Mandeville Hall.
“It was fate,” Tounkara says.
She decided to take her first class in the program, which solidified for her that she was truly in the right place. “Two years later, I’m still enjoying it,” she says.
But Tounkara didn’t stop there. She enrolled in the business intelligence and analytics program to dive deeper into the quantitative aspects of making strategic business decisions, she says. She also loves math, statistics and coding, so when she heard about Saint Joseph’s data science minor, she decided to take on it too.
Deborah Vesneski, Maguire Visiting Instructor of Insurance, says Tounkara is a student who goes above and beyond. Vesneski had the opportunity to teach her in her Corporate Risk Management class last semester.
“She is the type of student who completes her assigned work, but is so fascinated by it that she continues to research each topic,” she says. “She always wants to learn more.”
Vesneski says Tounkara has won numerous scholarships and awards — a well-deserving recognition of her talent and dedication beginning as early as her sophomore year.
Most recently, Tounkara won the President’s Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) scholarship from The Institutes Risk and Insurance Knowledge Group. The scholarship will help her complete a CPCU designation by providing her textbooks, course guides, study materials and matriculation and exam fees.
“She’s very motivated to complete industry designations,” Vesneski says. “This designation typically takes working professionals many years to complete, but Oumou is already on her way.”
Tounkara will also have several internships under her belt by the time she graduates. She’s taken on four since October of last year — from a revenue operations position at MikMak, an e-commerce marketing analytics company, to the competitive Wholesale Specialty and Insurance Association summer internship program, which would give her nine weeks of hands-on experience working for wholesale insurance and brokerage companies.
She’s also learning international banking. Tounkara is currently interning in the corporate investment, risk and treasury department at Ecobank Guinée, the same bank she shadowed in high school.
“Ecobank is one of the biggest banks in Africa,” Tounkara says. “It’s amazing to me to see how they’re using critical systems that are different from what I’ve seen in the U.S. and to learn more about African financial environments.”
She is the type of student who completes her assigned work, but is so fascinated by it that she continues to research each topic. She always wants to learn more.”
It took Tounkara a lot of hard work and perseverance to get to where she is today. One of the biggest challenges she had to overcome was learning English.
“I was born in the U.S., but I went abroad to stay with my family,” she explains. “So, my first year here was very hard. I had to learn the language, and I had to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) right away to be able to start school. I was studying maybe 15 to 16 hours a day to be able to be as good as I could.”
Although Tounkara isn’t considered an international student, she needed similar support and services. She quickly found those things at Saint Joseph’s.
“People on campus were really helpful. Everyone is willing to help you and teach you,” she says. “Having a support system that was ready for me to use really helped me work and achieve great things.”
And now, during the pandemic, that support system has never been more important. Tounkara is currently taking her classes from Guinea — 4,480 miles away from Philadelphia. She says she’s grateful that her professors and classmates are understanding of her situation; on top of her academics and extracurriculars, she’s navigating a five-hour time difference and poor internet connection.
Despite the challenges, Tounkara has kept her head up high.
“What really keeps me going is my family and knowing that not everyone has what I have. Each time I wake up, I’m thinking, there’s a kid in a village in Guinea who doesn’t even have the opportunity to go to school,” she says. “I recognize that what I’m doing is a result of all the people who contributed to me, and hopefully one day, I can go back to Guinea and give the same thing to someone else.”