Dr. Fonya Atabong, a nursing assistant professor at MEC is no stranger to hard-work and determination. The oldest of seven siblings, growing up in Limbe, Cameroon, wasn’t easy for a young woman with a desire to pursue an education. The common practice to prohibit women from exercising the same rights as men was a lifestyle she became accustomed to at an early age. Dreams of working in healthcare, Atabong knew she wanted more for her life. Today, the mother of five credits her own experience as a community college graduate as a discovery to self-empowerment.
“While growing up in Limbe, education for most women was a privilege. Not everyone had an opportunity to go to school,” Atabong said. “Men were perceived as being dominate. My father didn’t practice our culture’s traditional customs of making sure only the male child received an education. He and my mother went without and made sacrifices just so I could better myself.”
“At 19, I got married and migrated to the United States, where I only waited a few months to enroll in a nursing program at a local community college in Michigan,” she added. “Similar to NOVA, the community college environment was very diverse, but I still found people that I could relate to, and eventually it made me feel accepted. Going to a community college helped me to gain my independence and set the foundation for me to further pursue my education.”
As a nursing student at St. Clair County Community College, Atabong shied away from her reserved nature and gained self-confidence through her interactions with classmates and instructors. It wasn’t until she was accused of plagiarism by an instructor that she learned the importance of being actively engaged and voicing her opinions.
“The U.S. culture was very new and different from how I was raised. It took me a while to get adjusted to speaking up in class,” she said. “I used to be very quiet and shy, so much so, that my instructors would assume I was taking someone else’s work and passing it off as my own. I will never forget one of my professors, Pat Miller, who helped me transition to American culture and realize my potential.”
Atabong was selected for a Fulbright Scholar Program in Cameroon in August 2015 to teach and mentor nursing and public health students and faculty at the University of Buea. Due to the country’s high rates of women dying from childbirth, the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Higher Education in Cameroon made a historic effort to develop a bachelor’s degree program to ensure that individuals received proper training and quality education to become midwives through a formal agreement with the university. Atabong served as a consultant throughout the curriculum development of a three-year midwife degree program at the university.
Prior to joining NOVA in 2013, Atabong served as a registered nurse clinical educator and later advanced to work as a practice management coordinator for several physician groups at the University of Michigan Health System. After losing her father from multiple health complications and hospitalizations, last summer, in honor of his memory she opened and currently serves as chief caregiving officer of Aging in Place Caregiving Services LLC, a community home care agency in Woodbridge that caters to the needs of senior adults at home who wish to avoid the need for assisted living facilities.
The 2015 MEC Faculty of the Month recipient received an associate degree in nursing from St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, Michigan, a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in nursing business and health systems administration from the University of Michigan. She also received her doctorate in nursing from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Atabong is a member of the International Council of Nurses, Virginia Nurses Association, National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
“Working at NOVA has challenged me to follow my dreams and help students who were once in my shoes,” Atabong said. “Many of my international students have expressed how much they relate to my experiences and appreciate someone who understands their feelings about going to school and learning a new culture. The diversity at NOVA is what first attracted me to work here, and it is what will continue to keep me here for years to come.”