Focused on the Future
Munira Okovic’s determination to work for peace in a troubled world is easy to understand. A surviving witness to the horrors of ethnic cleansing in her native Bosnia during the 1990s, Munira arrived in the United States in 2001 during the chaotic week after 9/11.
“I always wanted to come to America,” Munira said. “I think it’s everyone’s dream.” She applied for political asylum in the U.S., which was granted after an appeal aided by the UConn School of Law’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic. While her asylum application was under review, Munira studied at Norwalk Community College for two years before transferring to the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program at UConn in Stamford in 2005.
Friends with positive UConn experiences, Stamford’s smaller campus size, and the cost of the program all figured in her decision. “I always wanted to work for a nonprofit organization and I was planning my career path towards the United Nations or working with an NGO (non governmental agency),” she explained. She found an appropriate program at a neighboring university, but was dismayed by the prohibitive price of its tuition. She reached out to Lisa Siebert, academic advisor at UConn-Stamford, who helped Munira fashion a program in international relations and political science that suited her requirements.
As an immigrant working hard to make the most of her new circumstances, she found the BGS program to be a perfect fit.
“At the time I was going to school, I was also working full-time as a nanny,” she recalled. “I tailored my schedule around the kids’ schedule for the family I was working with. I dropped them off at school in the morning, would go down to Stamford and take classes, go back and pick the kids up from school, go home, and we would all do homework at the same time. If I had a night class, the parents would take care of the kids, and I would go back to the Stamford campus. I liked the flexibility, that I could take classes when it fit my schedule. For somebody who has a full time job or something else going on in their lives, BGS gives you that flexibility. You can still do whatever you need to be doing and get your education at the same time.”
Her resolve impressed those around her. “Munira is an extraordinary individual,” said Siebert, her BGS advisor. “As a student she stood out, as she was so enthusiastic about her educational experience and thoroughly enjoyed every class that she took. Her thoughtfulness and kindness is exceptional; she is a truly remarkable person. I felt extremely lucky to be able to work with her.”
Upon earning her BGS degree in 2007, Munira faced a field where even entry level jobs may require a minimum of years of experience, a catch-22 experienced by many new graduates. She handed out resumes at the United Nations and applied for positions at a variety of international aid organizations, none of which were accepting even volunteer help. Temporarily stymied by the intense competition and a weak economy, she found a job in Stamford with an information technologies company that provides a variety of services to hedge funds and private equity firms.
She is good-natured and philosophical about working in the financial industry, so distant from the nonprofit world she always has in her sight.
“I’m still waiting for the market to recover — and the U.N. to think I’m valuable enough,” she said, determined and focused on the future. “I applied for my citizenship. I hope to become an American before the end of this year. That’s step number one. Step number two is to get my foot into the United Nations eventually and make the world a better place.”