Class of 2021: As he combines passions for sports, law, politics and business, Andy Mensah remembers his roots
Andy Mensah made a mark on the soccer field at Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as in boardrooms and at the Virginia state Capitol.
An energetic and tireless player on the field for the VCU men’s soccer team, Mensah was equally hardworking off the pitch in his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. He will graduate this month with a degree in business management from the VCU School of Business and a minor in political science, and one day aspires to earn a law degree.
Mensah describes being a student-athlete as a unique, structured experience that requires a lot of perseverance.
“You have different standards than students who don’t play sports, who don’t represent the university, responsibilities like waking up early, going to bed late, making sure you’ve handled your classes while balancing your social life,” Mensah said. “The number one thing is discipline. That’s my favorite word that I live my life by.”
The hours of practice, games and travel that he devoted to soccer allowed him to make friends from all over the world including Japan, Jamaica, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, Costa Rica and Brazil. Mensah made his mark as a student-athlete in other ways as well: He joined the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the athletic department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
“We live in a very connected world and being able to understand each other, being able to understand where we all come from, is imperative, not only for the success of us as individuals, but [the] country as a whole,” Mensah said.
Mensah’s achievements and relentless approach have been influenced by numerous hardships he has experienced. He was born to Ghanaian immigrant parents in Italy, where he resided until he was 6 years old. When he was 7, the family moved to the United States because of legal problems with their immigration status. Soon after, Mensah’s parents again faced legal trouble, this time regarding their immigration status in the U.S., and had to return to Ghana. At age 11, Mensah, who stayed in America, was an orphan, and he spent years experiencing housing instability until he was adopted by his current family when he was a freshman in high school.
“My entire upbringing, from being born in Italy to being an orphan in the United States, solidified my desire to one day pursue a juris doctorate degree so I can be a voice for my community,” Mensah said.
Those life-altering experiences pushed Mensah to take his academic and athletic obligations seriously and to excel. He began at VCU as a political science major but switched that to a minor and ultimately decided to major in business management, which he hopes will help him one day own a small business. His hard work has paid off and helped him get his photo on a “4.0 wall” in the athletics department, which was the highlight of his academic career at VCU.
“As a student-athlete, one of the things that we compete over is getting on the 4.0 wall, which means you’re the epitome of the student-athlete, you’re the best in your sport and you’re the best in the classroom. You maximized everything,” Mensah said.
Mensah’s favorite class at VCU was “Perspective from the C-Suite.” An invitation-only class held in the spring for top business students, Mensah was nominated by a professor and had to go through an interview and application process to get in. Students heard from a variety of local and national business leaders.
“That class gave me the confidence to break any glass ceiling that I may face in life and [realize] every accomplishment I achieve in life is valueless unless I reach back and lift others with me,” Mensah said.
Overcoming hardship to help others
Like all student-athletes, Mensah experienced highs and lows on the field. The 23-year-old’s standout VCU soccer memory comes from a pair of games last summer when the Rams beat Wake Forest University, the No. 6 team in the country, and then tied the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the No. 4 team in the country, in the same weekend.
Another meaningful experience for Mensah happened away from soccer, when he interned in the office of Del. Lamont Bagby through the Virginia Capitol Semester spring internship program offered through the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
“The internship was centered around financial empowerment of the Richmond community, specifically with minority-owned businesses, mergers and mergers of credit unions,” Mensah said. “I learned about what credit unions are in Virginia along with learning about what are the ways in which we can positively impact minority-owned businesses in the Richmond area.”
The internship with Bagby, who is chair of the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus, helped Mensah later land internships as a legislative aide with Fairfax County and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority this past summer.
“I researched green energy initiatives that the county was interested in pursuing as well as ways to uplift impoverished neighborhoods within the county,” Mensah said. “At the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, my primary role was to research and write reports on minority-owned businesses and the ways the group could provide resources to help them.”
Mensah enjoyed the chance to help residents of Fairfax County, which he said has the infrastructure to be the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. The county is home to over 1 million people. It is one of the wealthiest counties in the country and its annual budget is bigger than many states.
“I wanted firsthand experience working with influential leaders in my area,” Mensah said. “I grew up in an area in Fairfax County where we are overlooked and judged for not having as many resources as wealthier parts of the county, but my classmates still excelled despite those opinions of us.
“Ultimately my motivation for working for Fairfax County was that I wanted to reach back and help the communities where I came from, and to be able to do that in one of the most influential counties in America was the cherry on top.”
In addition to owning a small business and earning a law degree, Mensah also is interested in running for office someday.
“My philosophy in life has been to reach back as I climb,” he said. “I beat the odds as a first-generation college graduate who was an orphan. Now I believe it is my duty to reach back and lift others as well.”