Summer 2024
Main Page Download

Leaning Into the Awkward

A tapestry of experiences has defined Ameena Djanga’s time at George Fox – both as a student and an alumna By Joanna Nesbit

When Ameena (Bossier) Djanga (B15) arrived for Welcome Weekend at George Fox at the start of her freshman year, she remembers hearing an important piece of advice: get comfortable with the awkward.

“I still think about that to this day,” she says. “Asking for help feels awkward. Not knowing something feels awkward. But if you’re feeling awkward, chances are, so is somebody else. Just own it.”

The Southern Californian had her pick of colleges, but George Fox scholarships vaulted the school to the top of her list. When she and her dad visited, he was so comfortable with the campus he almost left her behind, Djanga says. It’s still a family joke.

But college in rural Oregon was bumpy at first, requiring her to lean into that awkward. Not only was she a first-generation college student, Djanga was also a Black student on a majority-white campus in a small town in the Pacific Northwest – far from the sun, cuisine and diversity of her California home in the Mojave Desert. “It was definitely a culture shock,” she says. There were homesick calls home, but her parents were firm.

So Djanga dug into college, and as she did, she discovered an open-mindedness of spirit within herself that would lead to personal, academic, and later, professional connections. She made good friends, played volleyball, and landed a campus library job she adored so much she stuck with it all four years. The two staff members she worked for even attended her wedding when she married fellow George Fox alumnus Joseph Djanga (B16). Along the way, May service trips to Nicaragua and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) built interpersonal skills and international friendships.

She also dove into two majors, studio arts and global business, which allowed her to blend her love of art, people, business and culture. Global business led her to her current job at Nike as an information security analyst and strategic business analyst. The role draws on her abilities to organize, manage projects and talk to different kinds of people. In between, she continues to paint, draw and create artwork on commission.

Her path to Nike wasn’t a straight one. After graduation, Djanga worked at several marketing firms, and along the way pursued a master’s degree in museum studies and a certificate in nonprofit management from Johns Hopkins University.

But every job and every personal choice contributes to a tapestry of experiences that enhance opportunities in unexpected ways, Djanga believes.

“People like to separate the world of art and business, and my three degrees don’t make sense to them – my master’s degree in museum studies seems so random,” she says. “But for me, it’s been this fun journey, and I find that every job I’ve had has, in some way, related to or been helpful to the next job or the next venture in ways I never would have expected.”

Volunteering with student organizations contributed to that tapestry as well. At George Fox, Djanga peer-mentored new students and volunteered with RISE, a national group with campus chapters. She also turned her senior art show into a successful networking event for students by inviting artists from all fields to participate in a session about career possibilities with an art degree.

“Ameena’s boldness in inviting professionals to campus for her event was just the beginning of a larger industry connection we fostered within the art and design department,” says professor Chandler Brutscher.

Even bad interviews can boost confidence and lead to deep friendship, she knew from experience – two more reasons to lean into the awkward. Djanga will always be grateful to the library staffer-turned-friend who took a chance on her “even after I gave the worst interview of my life.”

Once it was her turn to give back, Djanga has stayed connected to students and colleagues in several ways – her experiences as an alumna just as varied as when she was a student.

She served on the alumni board of directors for three years, from 2020 to 2023, and piloted an alumni-to-student mentoring program through the Black Student Union. “I know what it’s like to live in a state and go to a school where you don’t see a lot of professionals who look like you,” she says.

Djanga attends networking events when she’s able, including in recent years a RISE event and an alumni lunch at Nike. She recalls with gratitude the alumni who spoke on campus about careers and work experiences, and she enjoys sharing her professional experience with students. She also remains in touch with the university’s Department of Art and Design, participating in an alumni art show and popping in to say hi when she can.

These days, with a busy toddler and a baby on the way, Djanga has less time to give, but she likes to connect with George Fox students when she’s able, and she’s happy to talk to any student who wants career tips. Reaching out to alumni can feel difficult, she knows, but she encourages students to try it. Likewise, she encourages alumni to consider showing up for students.

“At the end of the day, students appreciate your time and the fact that you’re willing to share your experiences,” she says. “You just never know the impact you’re going to have on a student that can really change the trajectory of their life.”

Alumni, are you interested in mentoring a George Fox student? Email or call 503-554-2110.

facebook sharing button
twitter sharing button
email sharing button

Summer 2024 Journal Cover

Cover of Summer 2024 issue

Looking for more?

Browse this issue of the George Fox Journal to read more of the stories of George Fox University, Oregon's premier Christian university.

Browse Summer 2024