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Alhaja Affinnih Alhaja Affinnih: Family and School Mean Late to Bed, Early To Rise

May 1, 2001-- Alhaja Affinnih starts her day at 5:30 a.m. when she climbs out of bed to make breakfast for her three children, a niece, a nephew and her mother. Once the children -- who range in age from 4 to 15 -- leave for school, she rides the bus to morning classes at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce.

In the early afternoon, Affinnih works on projects with other McIntire students, then runs household errands, attends school conferences or sports activities for her children, and takes her diabetic mother, Shirley Ashley, to doctor's appointments and the pharmacy.

At 5 p.m. Affinnih must head home to prepare dinner for her family and supervise her children's homework and bedtime routines. By 9 p.m. or so, she usually can sit down with her mother to catch up on the family news and update her endless to-do list.

Affinnih starts her homework at about 11 p.m. and studies until 2 or 3 a.m. After a short sleep, a new day begins.

Thanks to her strong personal drive and help from family and friends, Affinnih, 27, will graduate this May with a bachelor's degree in commerce, with a dual concentration in marketing and management information systems. She entered U.Va. as a third-year student after transferring from Piedmont Virginia Community College where she earned two associate’s degrees -- one in business administration and one in computer information systems.

In June, when the children’s school year ends, Affinnih will move her family to northern Virginia where, on June 25, she begins a new life and a new job as a software engineer for the telecommunications company, Verizon Communications, in Arlington.

"My biggest reward is that my family will be taken care of," Affinnih said. "I will be able to give my children the quality of life I had as a child."

The road to that bachelor's degree has been uphill, but Affinnih was determined to make it. At 18, she declined acceptance to George Mason University after learning she was expecting her first child.

"I always knew I would come back," Affinnih said. "I knew college was going to happen for me."

Affinnih was born in the Bronx to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother. Her father, Yahya H. Affinnih, 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 Affinnih was 13. He is now a professor at New York University's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"My father sacrificed for his education," Affinnih said. "We all sacrificed for his education. He and my mother both drilled into me the importance of an education. They told me that 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 to that of the big city. After graduating from Albemarle High School, college hovered on Affinnih's horizon, but child rearing intervened. A year after her son, Nywd Jr., was born, Shaun came along. At age 20, Affinnih took custody of her niece and nephew while her older sister worked out personal problems.

Over the next few years, Affinnih held several jobs, many of which used her administrative, accounting, and technical skills; few of which paid enough to comfortably support herself and the five children she cared for. A painful moment came in 1993 when she had to move her family into subsidized housing because she couldn't make ends meet.

"One of the hardest things I've ever done was to move into subsidized housing," Affinnih said. "I wanted my children to have the same advantages I had, but I couldn't afford it. We moved out as soon as we could."

Affinnih made the most of that situation, speaking out on issues with the public housing association and serving briefly as a member of the Charlottesville Housing Redevelopment Board.

Affinnih realized she needed to pursue 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 class at PVCC, on schedule.

While at PVCC, Affinnih attended class, worked at various outside jobs -- including creating a searchable database for Fitzgerald & Associates, a local product-injury law firm -- and tutored other students in French, accounting, computer applications, mathematics and statistics.

This year, thanks to family financial support and childcare assistance from her mother, Affinnih stopped working part time to attend school full time and finish her degree.

Through her technical experience and classes at McIntire, Affinnih has learned skills that will serve her well in the business world -- the computer languages C++, Visual Basic and Java, along with people and managerial skills. She's kept an eye on business trends and, aware of her

family responsibilities, has a Plan B and a Plan C in place: if the economic slowdown threatens her position at Verizon, she has job applications in at several federal agencies and an active resume on

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 would like to pursue a master's degree in business administration in the future.

In spite of her tight schedule, Affinnih has enjoyed college and looks forward to beginning her new job. "Life is like a card game," mused Affinnih, who often plays cards with her family on weekends to relax. "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."

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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