Students, staff, faculty and families gathered on campus Thursday, February 16, to honor the latest awardees of In Our Own Voices, a photo and story gallery celebrating diversity and the voices that make up the UNH Manchester community.
More than 61 percent of UNH Manchester students are characterized as international, non-U.S. citizens, persons of color, first generation, non-traditional age or low income. Established in 2019, In Our Own Voices shares the stories that highlight how our students foster an inclusive, supportive and enriching environment.
“The diverse backgrounds of our students are what make UNH Manchester the unique and welcoming place it is,” UNH Manchester Dean Mike Decelle ’81 said in his remarks at the event. “These students have all contributed in enormous ways to make our campus the strong and diverse community that it is.”
The 2022 honorees, all of whom were nominated by a faculty or staff member, have personal stories that highlight courage, strength, growth, contribution to the campus community and/or a nontraditional journey. The 2022 In Our Own Voices inductees are below:
Tara Duffy '23, Neuropsychology, B.S.
As human beings, we like to pretend we are in control of what happens. I remember being a senior in high school, discussing which college I would attend, whether I would go to graduate school, and what my career would be. I had big plans and several dreams. However, I don’t think anybody can predict illness, especially in the young. The fall of senior year, I was diagnosed with two neuroinflammatory disorders: transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. These disorders occur due to inflammation in the central nervous system, resulting in paralysis and a range of other neurological symptoms. With the help of my doctors, physical therapists, and family, I graduated high school. However, my life was altered forever.
At first, in denial, I was determined to attend college in the fall like my friends. After two months, I dropped out from stress on my body and my mind. I hadn’t recovered enough to take that step. A year later, I made my second college attempt at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. My body was still weak and racked with chronic pain, but I had finally found a place where I felt supported. I could focus on my education and recovery in unison. It was difficult explaining my situation to professors as I look normal, but I received no judgment. The disabilities office also assisted me. My disorder has inspired me to study neuropsychology. I wish to share awareness of my struggles so that others like me will never feel defeated but inspired. I learned that I do not have control over what happens, but I do have control over how I allow it to affect me. UNH Manchester has provided me with the perfect environment to grow, to learn, and to never feel ashamed of my journey.
Marjorie Jozokos '22, Business, B.A.
As a single mother, I had been going to school off and on for several years. I also worked full time and got my real estate license to support my son. At one point, my son thanked me for putting my life on hold to raise him. My story took a horrific turn on September 29, 2020, when my only child, my 27-year-old son, was killed in a car crash in Concord, New Hampshire. He was the passenger.
What now? I wasn’t sure how to live this new life I was handed. I had come so far and was not about to stop. I needed to do this for myself, and for him. I know he would be proud of what I have overcome and how each day I am pushing forward. Being in the tunnel and seeing the light makes me proud of my accomplishments, not only for my real estate career and for earning my bachelor’s degree in business, but for being the best mother I could be.
UNH has pulled me through my darkest days with the caring, concern, and compassion from faculty, staff, and students. We never know what life will bring us, and we may struggle each day, but every step forward—whether big or small— is one step in the right direction. Life has a way of changing things that we had not prepared for. It is not about how quickly we get to our destination but knowing that we never gave up.
Anya Kurtenbach '22, '23G, Biotechnology, B.S. and Biotechnology, M.S.
I was always interested in different cultures and people with unique backgrounds. While still living in Belarus, where I was born and raised, I studied intercultural communications and foreign languages (English was one of them). I like exploring new things. Desire to explore different cultures brought me to America.
My exploration of science started when my husband and I started a family. I was hungry for knowledge but did not know where to focus. Also, it was not easy to start a new degree from scratch. To start I took some classes at a community college. I was instantly drawn to biotechnology classes because they allowed me to be innovative. I like how ideas, unique opinions, and views of the world can create new breakthrough projects that improve our lives. UNH Manchester has a great atmosphere to test new ideas and it allowed to bring creativity in my projects.
I am thankful for all academic experiences throughout the years and connections with great faculty and talented fellow students. I worked very hard for my degree. My family – my loving husband and two wonderful kids – fuel my motivation. Starting a new degree while having a family could be challenging, but it is well worth it. Through my strong academic performance and personal motivation at UNH Manchester, I showed that I can be part of grad program, which I will start in the fall.
My choice of pursuing a biotechnology degree and hard work is getting me to my final goal: I want to make a difference, bring valid meaningful contributions to the scientific world.
Rohit Kumar Veerabomma '22G, Information Technology, M.S.
Following my undergraduate studies, I intended to pursue my master’s degree in the United States Because the University of New Hampshire offered a wide range of programs in computer science, I was naturally drawn to it. After landing in the United States, concerned about how my experience in a new country would proceed, I found UNH Manchester’s staff and faculty welcoming, friendly, and comforting.
One of my professors recommended me for a Technical Consultant and Graduate Assistantship at the Graduate Admissions office. Being chosen as a face of the Admissions Office was a proud moment for me. Working as a graduate assistant was an incredible experience because it allowed me to collaborate with professors and grow in a variety of ways. I am grateful for the opportunity to assist fellow international students with their questions and concerns. As someone who was clueless when I first arrived in a new country, I could sympathize with the new international students. I was always committed to working hard for my own improvement and ensuring that no students felt helpless while away from their home country.
Overall, my time at the University of New Hampshire was an incredible experience with a mix of excellent coursework and practical experience. I am thankful to all my professors and my graduate office team for making my time at the University of New Hampshire memorable. I am confidently graduating from university with a treasure.
Raymond Miller '22, '23G, Biological Sciences, A.S. and Biotechnology, M.S.
As a young child, I would visit hospitals where my father worked as a nurse in ERs and ICUs. My curiosity with all things related to medicine continued as I grew, but my passion for the art of photography took me on a path to earn my BFA in fine art photography. During my junior and senior years, I had the opportunity to take classes at UNH Manchester, and as I studied chemistry related to photography, my curiosity of sciences and medicine resurfaced.
After graduating with my bachelor’s, I continued at UNH Manchester, earning my A.S. in biological sciences and now working towards my master’s in biotechnology. My time here has given me opportunities to tutor English speakers of other languages, lead teams in biological research, work to develop and expand our COVID testing lab, and assist with operations at the Biotechnology Innovation Center.
As I pursue my goal of earning an M.D./Ph.D., my time at UNH Manchester has provided me with the foundation to achieve what I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid.
Davis Moore '23, Computer Science, B.A.
I have always had a passion for problem solving and enjoy inventing creative solutions to difficult problems. Programming allows me to do that. The nature of my field also makes my options flexible. If I decide one week I am interested in meteorology, I can code something to tell me the weather or to predict the weather.
Ever since I was in middle school, I somehow always ended up as the person people asked for help when the teacher was busy. I found that I was very good at explaining things in a way people can understand, so becoming a tutor in UNH Manchester’s Center for Academic Enrichment was a natural fit. I have learned that the key to understanding how someone learns usually lies in understanding why they want to learn.
I enjoy learning new things because it enables me to gain greater understanding of how the world operates and allows me to further appreciate the world around me. Computers seem more interesting when you truly understand that all a computer really does is move numbers around and add numbers really fast. My goal is to earn a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate so that I can do research in the field of machine learning.
Vanessa Thao Tu '23, Psychology, B.S.
Anybody who knows me would see me as a creative and ambivert person with the best planning strategies. Little did people know the struggles and challenges that I have encountered.
Back in Vietnam, I was known as the polite daughter of a doctor-aesthetician and a famous contract driver in the town. My family was well off and well known in the neighborhood…until my parents divorced.
I followed my mother and sister to Britain with the hope of changing our lives. Yet, they had to work hard to pay off the debt for the private school where I was sent at age 13. I remember that for three years, I was lonely. Can you imagine being separated from your family at a young age with no relatives or connections? It wasn’t easy adapting, but I learned cultural aesthetics. Different time zones made it even harder for me to call my family or friends. In 2016, my mother remarried and moved to America. In 10th grade, I tried to bring myself out of my comfort zone. For the first time, I saw snow. For the first time, I applied to jobs by myself. For the first time, I got to drive a car. For the first time, I could be independent. The circle of friends from diverse backgrounds has taught me many things. I believe that this cultural knowledge has made me special.
In addition to the newest cohort, the event also celebrated past recipients whose stories laid the foundation for the gallery and who continue to serve as examples for future nominees. Carlo Capuz '21, '23G, a native of the Philippines and graduate of our computer information systems and information technology programs, and Jeremy Clague '20, who was inspired to pursue his neuropsychology degree after an accident cut his career short in the U.S. Marines, were among the past awardees in attendance.
On display in the UNH Manchester entryway, Decelle noted how the In Our Own Voices gallery doesn’t just highlight diversity, but also serves to welcome community members and create connections.
“We’ve seen tears in people’s eyes and received comments about how moving these stories can be. We’ve heard how people have identified with the challenges or paths of these stories,” Decelle says. “Best of all, we’ve seen people become inspired.”