Mary Nankya smiles at Winter 2023 commencement ceremony

Reaching for her dreams

Student Stories
January 8, 2024
Mary Nankya, a December 2023 graduate, hopes to inspire others to pursue their dreams.
Mary Nankya smiles at Winter 2023 commencement ceremony
Portrait of computer science graduate student Mary Nankya
Mary Nankya '23

If one was to describe Mary Nankya in a single word, it would have to be “driven.” 

Raised in Uganda, Mary has always had high aspirations for herself. When she wanted to learn how to bake, she started watching YouTube videos and practicing her craft. Before long, she was baking professional wedding cakes. All it took, she said, was persistence, and a belief in herself.

She has always been ambitious. “I am very confident about my abilities, and any time I see that I can make a difference, I try to do beyond people’s expectations. That’s how you can inspire others. Everyone is talented in something, but sometimes they’re afraid to step out.”

That drive helped her complete a bachelor’s degree in computer science in Uganda, and it fueled her to continue her studies in America, even if it meant leaving her two young children behind.

At Fitchburg State she found a nurturing environment and a supportive community of fellow students, faculty and staff members, who helped her find her place on campus, as well as a place to live nearby. She secured a job as a graduate assistant in the Center for Diversity and Inclusiveness, where she could in turn provide support to her fellow students who were making a new home at Fitchburg State. 

Technology has let her keep in touch with her sons, now ages 4 and 6. Three times a week she sees them on video calls, seeing them grow and learn, and keeping up with their milestones. Hers is a sacrifice, she says, that will lead to better lives for all of them.

Achieving that dream has meant working hard in her classes, and finding opportunities to show her potential. She reached out to one of her professors to discuss an independent research project, and found a willing collaborator. Their joint effort led to a scholarly publication in Fall 2023 on cybersecurity, a milestone in any academic life.

With her master's degree in computer science now completed, Mary looks to the future with anticipation of the career she wants to build, and a reunion with her children, who are learning from her example that reaching for your dreams is worth it if you want to be an inspiration to others.

More than 400 graduate and undergraduate degrees were conferred in December 2023. Mary Nankya's story was shared as part of President Lapidus' remarks to the graduates and guests.