If anyone knows the value of a scholarship, it’s Kossi Ekpe.
For more than eight years, Ekpe has been splitting his time between going to college in pursuit of an electrical engineering degree and working at Chick-fil-A in Anderson. Not only has he been paying for his own education but also supporting his family back home in the West African nation Togo.
Ekpe, 38, said that while scholarships and grants have fallen well short of providing a full ride, they have helped relieve financial pressure so he can better focus on classes. The $2,500 in scholarships he is seeking for the spring semester would take about a month to earn working full time, twice as long part time, he said.
“For me personally, they have been a lifesaver,” Ekpe said.
Ekpe’s journey underscores the impact that scholarships have on the hopes and dreams of hard-working students whose potential is sometimes undermined by the financial realities of paying for a high-quality education. Many such scholarships are made possible by private donors.
Ekpe, who is on track to graduate in December 2024, said that he and his wife, Marie Claire, would like to have a baby and move from their Anderson apartment to a house. When there is enough money and time, he plans to take her on vacation to Paris.
Ekpe’s professors said he has stood out in large classes thanks to hard work, perseverance, curiosity and a positive outlook, even in the face of setbacks.
Apoorva Kapadia, a visiting assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said that when he thinks of Ekpe, the tag line for the Tigers basketball team comes to mind– Clemson Grit.
“He embodies that grit,” Kapadia said. “He puts his nose to the grindstone and keeps at it until he succeeds or there is nothing more to give.”
Stephen Hubbard, a visiting associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said that Epke struggled with two of his major’s toughest classes but availed himself of office hours and ultimately prevailed. Ekpe showed his appreciation for Hubbard by giving him a model of an ngoni, a traditional West African guitar.
“He is a wonderful person,” Hubbard said. “He is the kind of person I like to teach because he was interested in the classes.”
Ekpe received his visa through a lottery aimed at countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The visa allowed him to pursue the American dream, but he knew from the start he would have to pay his own way.
Ekpe’s sponsor lived in Anderson, so that’s where he headed in 2014 when he left Togo for the United States.
Upon arrival, he worked at a car wash and later for an asbestos-removal company owned by Lisa and Dougie Rumsey.
The Rumseys first met Ekpe and two of his roommates at Renewal Church in Anderson. All three were new to the country and knew little English. Ekpe got to know the Rumseys by traveling with them to jobs in Atlanta. Dougie took Ekpe and his roommates fishing and introduced them to basketball.
Ekpe and the Rumseys have stayed in touch throughout the years. As busy as Ekpe is with work and school, he has taken the time to swing by Lisa’s shop, Kakalaki Kids.
She described him as humble and appreciative of the opportunities that have been given to him.
“His relationship with the Lord is what makes him so different,” she said. “There is something attractive about him that people are drawn to, and whether they know it or not, that’s what it is– the Lord.”
With the Rumseys help, Ekpe found a job in 2015 at Chick-fil-A in the Anderson Mall. The position gave him the flexibility to enroll in classes at Tri-County Technical College and later Greenville Technical College.
Ekpe made a big impression at that job, too. Chick-fil-A surprised him in 2017 with a $25,000 True Inspiration Scholarship.
“That helped me a lot– to get a scholarship,” Ekpe said. “It helped take away some of the pressure because everytime I have to pay school fees I have to start thinking about how I can manage it.”
Jon Holmes, the Chick-fil-A franchisee who employs Ekpe, said he embodies the company’s core values, including humility, generosity and loyalty.
“He’s got an unbelievable drive,” Holmes said. “He works late and gets home and studies until 2 or 3 in the morning. It’s been a battle for him, but he’s just got a drive to succeed and to help others, specifically his countrymen. Everybody likes working with him.”
While pursuing his American dream, Ekpe has also taken care of obligations back in Togo. Ekpe said that in keeping with his homeland’s tradition, he has helped two of his four younger siblings pay for their higher education.
“Whenever you are the oldest in your family in Africa, you have to make sure your siblings are okay,” he said.
Outside work and school, Ekpe and his wife have found a community with Deeper Life Bible Church. He and Pastor Stephen Ojo have connected through their shared African heritage and passion for electrical engineering.
“He has a mind of Christ,” said Ojo, who is from Nigeria and serves as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Anderson University. “Humility is his greatest strength. He wants to listen, and he always wants to help.”
Ekpe received an Associate of Science from Greenville Technical College and transferred in 2021 to Clemson University.
Marie Claire arrived from Togo the same year after two frustrating years of pandemic-related delays. Her job as a hairdresser helped allow him in fall 2023 to become a full-time Clemson student for the first time. Still, he worked about 20 hours a week at Chick-fil-A to help make ends meet.
Ekpe, who plans to stay in the United States after graduation, said he wants to work for a company for a few years to broaden his experience and later become a contractor that provides electrical services, especially in the power domain.
He sees himself working in the United States most of the time and having a representative in West Africa to help the region develop.
“I want to give back to America, because it is our culture,” Ekpe said. “Whenever someone helps you, ‘yes’ is always what you say. I have learned a lot here, so my goal is to give back to America and help others over there, too.”
Get in touch and we will connect you with the author or another expert.
Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org