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Mami Awol

By Leila Ugincius

Mami Awol was interested in fashion design, and as a high school student, her top choice for college was Virginia Commonwealth University. But by the end of her first semester, which included a few general and introductory courses, she knew that fashion wasn’t the right fit.

That same semester, Awol worked as an office assistant to a finance manager at VCU Health – a position she has continued to enjoy throughout her four years at VCU. She initially figured accounting might be her path forward. It wasn’t.

“Accounting was too rough for me, especially with the sudden interruption of COVID-19 and the whole virtual learning experience” she said.

But Awol, who was born in South Sudan and studied in Uganda and Ethiopia before becoming a U.S. citizen, did some research in the realms of business and money. And she did some personal reflection, too.

“My family is led by women,” she said, “but none … are financially educated enough to understand how money really works.”

So Awol switched her pursuit to finance, which has fit like a glove. This month, she will receive her Bachelor of Science degree in business with a concentration in finance. And in July, she will start as a full-time financial adviser in Chicago with JP Morgan Chase.

Though her academic journey at VCU has taken a few turns, her steady position with the finance manager “has grown with me and has aided my growth in incredible ways,” Awol said. “I learned a lot through listening and watching my boss, taking notes, paying attention in school, taking Excel courses, applying the things learned, making mistakes and asking my manager questions and [getting] feedback.”

During the heart of the pandemic, while working remotely, Awol continued growing in that role. But as a personable person by nature, she said she finds it easier to form connections in shared surroundings. She is grateful to the VCU educators with whom she forged bonds, noting that her interest in writing and journaling was nurtured by an English and literature teacher. And she cited Naomi Boyd, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business, who taught a course sponsored by Robinhood on exchange-traded funds.

“Her leadership has helped me to realize my potential as a woman and as a finance professional in life and especially the world of finance,” Awol said.

Her fondest memory from her undergraduate years is sunbathing with friends at Monroe Park and reflecting together on childhood experiences while sharing future goals. An internship with JPMorgan Chase last summer has helped her toward them, but Awol said VCU has touched her in deeper ways.

“The things I am grateful for as a VCU student,” she said, “are my connections, the passions and inspirations gained along the way.”

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