Nearly 8,000 miles separated Mercy Ngetich ’15, who grew up in remote village in Nakuru, Kenya, and Valparaiso University. On the surface, differences between the two communities are apparent. But both have a strong faith in the power of education.

A chance encounter on an airplane between Mercy’s aunt, Lucy Borus, and Valpo graduate Tina Hodges ’82 brought them together. The two stayed in touch and often discussed issues affecting women and girls in Africa. When their conversations turned to education, they talked about ways to provide female scholars from the developing world with access to education. Lucy suggested starting with her niece, Mercy, an excellent student with great ambition.

“Educating girls is one of the most effective ways of making positive changes worldwide,” says Joanne Laatsch ’82 Lehmann, Tina’s former college roommate. Joanne serves as Mercy’s host mother and was instrumental in bringing her to the United States.

“Access and opportunity are available in abundance to American students,” Joanne says. “We hope to afford the same access and opportunity to other deserving women around the world.”

Joanne, Tina, and several others began a fundraising campaign with St. Peter Lutheran church in Portage, Ind. Already more than $40,000 has been raised to give students like Mercy the opportunity to study at Valpo.

A finance major, Mercy is seeking a bachelor of science in business administration. She also serves as treasurer of the Valparaiso University African Student Association (VUASA) and hopes to eventually earn an MBA and a Ph.D.

These future plans would not be possible without Valpo, she says.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mercy says. “I never thought that one day I would come to a university in America and have my tuition paid. Valpo is changing my life.”

Mercy is also grateful for her leadership role in VUASA, which will prepare her to be a leader in the community when she returns to Kenya. Because she was given the opportunity to study in the United States, Mercy is now focused on how she can help others.

“Everyone back home finds this to be an incredible opportunity,” she says. “They are so proud of me. I feel like a source of inspiration to the people in my village.”

Though Mercy’s plans for the future are still developing, she hopes to return to her village and work in her community so that others may have the same opportunity that she did.

And while she feels quite homesick, she acknowledges her mentors, professors, and especially her parents for cheering her on.

“They are the people behind my success,” Mercy says. “They have encouraged me since I started going to school. The list of people who inspire me is endless, and I appreciate each and every one of them.”