May 18-24, 2001
Back Issues
Waters' mission runs deep
Two graduates honored for their service to humanity
Student aids the homeless

Mellon winner redefines "Jim Crow" era

Pre-med student shares his passion for music
Fast-track grad driven to help his family
Student leads effort to install Braille on Lawn room doors
Creative recycling: Students convert crate into studio
Lawson lives richly
Can you go home again? Issues facing international students
Education delayed but not denied
Weaver finds election laws discriminatory
Quilter gets A+
Students to go abroad on Fulbright scholarships
Weddle will research Peruvian women
Graduate rich in lessons learned
Anthony defender of public good
Affinnih plays her cards strategically
After earning degree in two years, graduate going for two more
Student develops new sign language system
Student trio pushes for late-night joe

Affinnih plays her cards strategically

Alhaja Affinnih
Stephanie Gross
From left, Stephanie Krebs, Sharon Calhoun and Alhaja Affinnih met for their fourth-year Commerce School study group.

Staff Report

This year’s graduating class boasts many high achievers who have overcome odds that would stymie those with lesser constitutions. Consider Alhaja Affinnih, who embodies drive and determination.

Affinnih, 27, receives her bachelor’s degree from the Commerce School with dual concentrations in marketing and management information systems. She came to the University as a third-year student from Piedmont Virginia Community College, where she earned associate’s degrees in business administration and computer information systems.

She starts work with Verizon Communications in Arlington, Va., in late June. If the economic slowdown threatens that position, she has her backup plan — applications at several federal agencies and an active resumé on

While her life now seems direct and well ordered, the path wasn’t always that straight. She’s been raising three children and a niece and nephew, plus caring for her diabetic mother. Once her school day was finished, the family fed, the children’s homework completed, and everyone bedded down, Affinnih finally did her homework, often working from 11 p.m. until about 2 or 3 a.m. The daily cycle would start again at 5:30 a.m.

She’s thankful her parents instilled in her a drive for higher education. Affinnih was born in the Bronx to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother. Her father, a taxi driver and a student, and her mother, a telephone operator, afforded their family of five a middle-class living. Affinnih’s father later earned a doctorate in sociology when she was 13. He is now a professor at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“My father sacrificed for his education,” Affinnih said. “He and my mother drilled into me the importance of an education. They told me school was the best way to succeed.”

The family moved to Charlottesville in 1986 for her father’s fellowship at U.Va.’s Carter G. Woodson Institute. After the fellowship ended, he returned to New York, but Affinnih’s mother stayed with her three children, preferring Charlottesville’s small-town environment. After graduating from Albemarle High School, college hovered on Affinnih’s horizon, but child rearing intervened. A year after her first son was born, the second son came along. At 20, Affinnih took custody of her niece and nephew while her older sister worked out personal problems.

After working several jobs and sometimes barely making ends meet, she realized she needed a long-term strategy to attain her goal of attending college, so she created a five-year plan. Two weeks after her daughter was born, in August 1996, she started at PVCC, on schedule.

While at PVCC, Affinnih attended class, held various jobs — including creating a searchable database for a Charlottesville product-injury law firm — and tutored students in French, accounting, computer applications, mathematics and statistics.

Thanks to family financial support and child-care assistance from her mother, Affinnih stopped working part time this year to attend U.Va. full time and finish her degree. Through her technical experience and classes at the McIntire School of Commerce, Affinnih has gained expertise that will serve her well in the business world — the computer languages C++, Visual Basic and Java, along with managerial skills.

If all goes well at Verizon, Affinnih wants to take advantage of the company’s educational benefits: Verizon will pay 100 percent of the cost of relevant graduate studies. She wants to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.

“Life is like a card game,” mused Affinnih. “You don’t have to keep the cards you’re dealt. It’s how you play that matters. If you give up on a hand, you give up on life. If you play your cards strategically, you can win.”




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