International student learns English and earns business degrees at CSUB

May 28, 2008
Kathy Miller, 661/654-2456, or
Michele Newel, 661/654-2720,
Int'l Student Success at CSUB Photo

Eight years ago he opened the door to a California State University, Bakersfield classroom. He was 17 years old, nearly 7,000 miles from home and unable to speak English. He carried with him only some basic school supplies and an unquenchable desire to learn.

Friday, June 6, Tiemoko Diarra will show just how far determination can go as he crosses the stage at CSUB to receive his master's degree in business administration.

"I thought I knew how to speak English fairly well," said Diarra about the start of his journey. "At school back home, I always had good grades in English. But, at LAX I couldn't understand anything anyone said. I realized quickly my English was really very, very bad."

A native of Mali, a landlocked nation in Western Africa, Diarra speaks French and the official national language, Bambara. After considerable research, Diarra and his family selected the CSUB Intensive English Language Center as the best place to learn English.

"When I got to the IELC, I didn't know anything. I tested at the lowest level possible. I didn't even understand the test instructions," Diarra said with a laugh. "The next six months were intense. My friends were Japanese and Korean and they didn't speak English either."

Together, the international students were not afraid to try speaking new words and always spoke English during and after class. No matter how broken, English was the only common language among them.

Diarra credits his patient teachers for helping him succeed. "Annette Charron was one of my IELC teachers and she became a second mom to me. She welcomed me into her family. I've watched her kids grow up."

With no intention of staying in Bakersfield, Diarra found that he loved the community. The values are "very similar to Mali. Everyone loves the people around them and are friendly so I feel at home," he explained.

With six months of English under his belt, Diarra enrolled at Bakersfield College where he later earned an associate's degree in business administration. After a return trip to Mali for a reunion with family and friends, he transferred to CSUB.

Diarra did not take long to determine his area of focus. "I had a lot of great professors so many I can't name them all. But when I took a finance class from Dr. Shakoori, I was hooked," Diarra said with his usual exuberance and animated manner. "He inspired me. Some students think that he is very difficult, but he is the best finance professor ever! He has a good background and I loved every single minute in his classes."

The feeling is mutual for Shakoori who enjoyed having Diarra as both an undergraduate and graduate student.

"Tiemoko was himself inspirational as he was so hungry for learning," Shakoori said. "His motivation and desire to learn was a tremendous boost in class. He is very self-motivated and always participated in class activities He never missed a class and never left assignments unfinished."

In June 2005, Diarra completed his bachelor's degree and was working at Washington Mutual Bank as a teller. Promoted quickly to personal financial representative, Diarra attributes his success to his education.

"As an international student, legally I can only work for one year through the 'Optional Practical Training' program without being enrolled in school full-time," Diarra explained. "I wanted my MBA anyway so went back to CSUB."

Diarra points out that the CSUB business school has top international accreditation, "one of the best in the world." He enjoys the fact that he received a quality education at a school with a low student to teacher ratio.

"We come from all over the world to attend school here, and it surprises me that more in the community don't take advantage of it," Diarra remarked. "The people who live here don't realize what they have and say bad things about Bakersfield. It's strange. If I'd lived anywhere else I couldn't have done what I have done here. Bakersfield is a great place and a second home to me."

Diarra is already putting his master's degree to good use as a newly hired quality assurance supervisor for Paramount Farms.

When he crosses the stage on Friday, Diarra's parents along with two of his three siblings from Mali will be cheering loudly in the audience. One of his brothers will also be scouting CSUB to determine if he should enroll in the business program.

When the applause and celebration from commencement ends, a significant milestone for this determined young professional will have been achieved. However, given his track record, there can be little doubt his greatest achievements are yet to come.