Success Starts Here
WCU Cultivates Leaders, Thinkers & Doers
ana Laufenberg traveled far to attend West Chester University. Literally, this is true — her hometown of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is almost 7,000 miles from West Chester. But her greater journey was the leap of faith she took in choosing to pursue her dreams against all odds.
A WCU junior, Laufenberg doesn't like to discuss the past in great detail. But she is comfortable sharing that when she was just 7, her mother, Birzaf, died of malaria. An only child, Laufenberg lived with an aunt for a time, until that aunt also died of malaria. She was adopted from an orphanage and brought to the U.S. at the age of 16. Today, at the age of 22, Laufenberg is responsible for herself — financially and in every sense of the word. And though she may be alone, she isn't lonely.
She has a close-knit group of friends at West Chester and also has developed a network of professors and staff that has her back. "I always go to office hours and I'm not afraid to ask for help when I need it," she says.
Chief among her advocates is "Tori God Mother." Laufenberg opens her phone to display a recent text from "Tori God Mother," which is her nickname for Tori Nuccio, an interim associate director of Financial Aid and the administrator of WCU's Promise Program. The program provides unaccompanied homeless and foster youth access to year-round campus housing, priority employment opportunities, special scholarship funds, and a community where they can share successes and challenges.
Laufenberg knows she can call or text Nuccio at virtually any time to ask a question, share news of a good grade or the disappointment of a low grade. Not that the latter happens often. Laufenberg has a 3.4 GPA, carries a full course load and works almost 40 hours a week. On campus, she is employed in the Office for Student Leadership and Involvement and teaches Les Mills Grit™ classes at the REC Center. Off campus, she heads to Nudy's Café at 6 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday to serve up bacon and eggs and hot coffee.
Her strong GPA is all the more remarkable when you consider that Laufenberg only learned English six years ago. "I used to be self-conscious about my accent but I don't worry about it now," she says. "Some of my friends are surprised to find out I didn't know English until I was 16. But I don't struggle to find the right words anymore. In fact, sometimes I have trouble in Amharic, the language I spoke back home," she says with a laugh.
Laufenberg was admitted to WCU via the Academic Success Program (formerly known as ADP), a program designed for students who don't meet the University's admissions criteria but still show the potential to succeed in college.
The program helped Laufenberg hone her English language skills, and that was just the start of all it did for her.
"I loved ADP," she says. "I was at a low point emotionally before being admitted to the University, and ADP was what I needed to get back on track. ADP got me out of my comfort zone. I get anxiety talking to new people but the summer I lived on campus with other ADP students, before freshman year, I made lots of new friends. Many of us are still close."
Laufenberg's ADP advisor helped her navigate career exploration. Initially unsure what she wanted to do after college, Laufenberg started out as a nursing major, switched to marketing, then management, and now is a double major in finance and economics.
She feels good about this decision and believes it will help her achieve her goal of a career in international business. In a volunteer capacity, she wants to be involved in NGOs that support women and children, especially youth in foster care. Currently, she is working to attract interest in developing an "alumni version" of WCU's Promise Program. "I'm trying to create a transitional program that would bridge the gap between the services homeless and foster youth receive at the University and independent life after graduation," she says.
"Hana has been a strong advocate for her peers in the Promise Program," says Nuccio. "I admire her willingness to go above and beyond in order to help support the needs of current and future students."
Laufenberg dreams big. Other than her flight to the U.S. from Ethiopia, she had never traveled anywhere when she stopped by the Center for International Programs last fall. But she is hungry to see the world. "I'm independent and pretty fearless, and I want to experience as many different cultures as I can," says Laufenberg.
So with the assistance of Nora Maurer, the center's associate director of education abroad, Laufenberg considered various study abroad programs, applied for grants and scholarship funding, and set off on a 15-day trip to Ireland and England with the Office for Student Leadership and Involvement. She hopes to do another study abroad program this summer.
At times, Laufenberg's relentless schedule of classes, studying, and three jobs can be overwhelming and she'd like nothing more than to curl up with a cup of tea and some mindless Youtube videos. But her motivation to succeed is strong. "I want to make my mom proud," she says. "She did so much for me and would want to see me take advantage of every opportunity I have."