After tanking a business analytics midterm her first semester at the University of Iowa, Kethia Mulongo rebounded and is set to graduate with a business degree and an academic certificate. She found a lot of campus support along the way.
Story
Sara Epstein Moninger
Photography
Justin Torner
Kethia Mulongo
  • Degree: BBA in business analytics
  • Home country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Future plans: Currently interviewing with companies in the Des Moines area, with plans to continue her business education at the UI Tippie College of Business via Pappajohn Education Center in Des Moines

In addition to earning a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Certificate in Event Management from the University of Iowa, Kethia Mulongo will leave campus with something else when she graduates in December 2021: the knowledge that she can successfully navigate challenges.

Mulongo, who was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came to the United States for a college education, moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2015 to be near her older brother. She completed an associate’s degree from Kirkwood Community College with little effort and then spent a year working for GreenState Credit Union to see if a career in accounting, a subject she studied in her home country, was a good fit. She decided to continue her education in 2019 at the UI Tippie College of Business—and quickly learned how to persevere.

“I did badly on my first midterm, and it was a really big shock. I cried for days,” Mulongo says. “Then I went to my adviser’s office in the College of Business and asked her what I could do.”

The adviser had a number of recommendations—studying on campus, getting involved in student organizations, and taking advantage of professors’ office hours—and Mulongo took the advice to heart. She stopped driving to campus from Cedar Rapids each day, instead opting to use the 380 Express bus service. That gave her flexibility to spend more time on campus and participate in extracurricular activities. She ended up with a good grade in the business class. Then COVID-19 threw her a curveball.

“The switch to online classes when the pandemic started was challenging for everyone,” she says. “Nobody had been through this, but adding that to my transition was confusing.”

“All my professors were always there to help. It didn’t matter what time I emailed them. It didn’t matter if I had something come up where I couldn’t complete an assignment on time—they would always respond right away. They were always willing to help, to jump on a Zoom call, even when it wasn’t during their office hours.”

Kethia Mulongo
December 2021 graduate of the Tippie College of Business

Although Mulongo is fluent in English—as well as in French, Swahili, and Lingala—it is not her first language, and she says some ideas are lost in translation. However, she says her professors made sure she didn’t fall too far behind.

“All my professors were always there to help. It didn’t matter what time I emailed them. It didn’t matter if I had something come up where I couldn’t complete an assignment on time—they would always respond right away,” she says. “They were always willing to help, to jump on a Zoom call, even when it wasn’t during their office hours.”

Complementing support from her instructors were the interactions she had with peers in multiple extracurricular organizations, including the BizEdge Mentorship Program, the Global Engagement Student Advisory Board (GESAB), and the Multicultural Business Student Association.

“BizEdge really helped me make connections, but one of my best memories at Iowa was the Black in Business dinner in February 2020. For the first time, I got to see a lot of Black people in one room at the business college,” she says. “For most of my time here, I have been the only Black student in most of my classes, and that night I heard professionals who had been first-generation students or Black students at Iowa share their stories. It was great to hear about their journeys—from coming to Iowa to transitioning after graduation—and the risks they took, and then to see where they are today. It was a really refreshing and positive experience.”

Getting involved with GESAB has allowed Mulongo to pay it forward to other international Hawkeyes. The group of Tippie students, selected each year through an application process, works within the college to promote inclusivity and global awareness. They advise the Undergraduate Program Office on issues relating to internationalization and implement new and continuing initiatives.

Did you know?

The Department of Business Analytics in the UI Tippie College of Business is home to experts in data science, social network analysis, machine learning, optimization, statistics, transportation, and supply-chain management. Faculty focus on their individual areas of specialty while conducting research, and bring that knowledge to life in the classroomThe Department of Business Analytics in the UI Tippie College of Business is home to experts in data science, social network analysis, machine learning, optimization, statistics, transportation, and supply-chain management. Faculty focus on their individual areas of specialty while conducting research, and bring that knowledge to life in the classroom.

“That work is really important to me because I was once the student who didn’t know anyone, the student who struggled,” she says. “Now I get to be the person helping other students with their transition. It’s something I understand firsthand.”

Joelle Brown, assistant director for global community engagement at Tippie, says the college is committed to providing holistic support to all of its students, and Mulongo is a great example of how students can use those resources to be successful.

“We want our students to succeed academically but also to grow as individuals, so they understand themselves more deeply and their world more clearly,” Brown says. “Resiliency is a thread that is woven into Kethia’s entire story. When she faced academic hardship, she sought resources and overcame her challenges. When the pandemic flipped her educational experience upside down, she continued pursuing her degree. When the derecho came through Cedar Rapids in 2020, that didn’t slow her down either. Kethia is very strong, both academically and personally, and her ability to experience challenge, make adjustments, and move forward will carry her far.”

Mulongo is applying for jobs in the Des Moines area, home to many companies and located halfway between relatives in Cedar Rapids and Omaha. She is interviewing for positions in business analytics but also plans to continue her business education through Tippie’s course offerings in Des Moines.

More than two years after arriving on the UI campus, Mulongo—who was selected class speaker for the college’s Tippie Toast to Graduation event in December—says she feels prepared for the next chapter of life.

“I have learned that there is someone inside of me willing to fight, because failure has pushed me to learn even more, to go above what I knew I could do,” she says. “I know there are going to be moments after graduating when I’m going to question myself, when I’m going to fail again. This is life. But I know now that I can go past that. It’s part of the journey, even if I don’t know where I’m going.”