Saturday, May 12, 2001

Graduation is end of long journey

By Mark Hallenberg
Enquirer Contributor

        HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — The honors Ukrainian Inna Pylyayeva receives today at Northern Kentucky University's graduation will be a milestone in a five-year journey.

        It all started with a Newport fire chief and the Sister City program.

        Today at the Firstar Center, Ms. Pylyayeva, 26, will receive the prestigious’Compton Allen Award as the outstanding graduate in Northern's MBA program, and receive a master's degree in Information Systems Specialization.

        She met Newport Fire & EMS Chief Larry Atwell and his wife Wilma in 1996 when she was an education student at a Ukrainian university and assigned to translate for a group of American visitors in the city of Kharkiv. The group included business and municipal officials who were part of a Sister City program between Greater Cincinnati and Kharkiv, 50 miles from the Russian border.

        The Atwells, Southgate residents, were part of the group attached to Ms. Pylyayeva. For two weeks in Ukraine, the Atwells depended on her to communicate.

        Soon, they invited her to spend three years in Northern Kentucky completing her education.

        ’“After just two days we felt very comfortable with Inna,”’ said Mr. Atwell.

        Her first challenge was securing a visa from the Ukraine. “It is very hard for young single adults to leave the country,” Ms. Pylyayeva said, because officials fear they may not return.

        She came to stay with the Atwells and enrolled in NKU's masters program to pursue a three-year business administration degree, with the Atwells paying her tuition. But another hurdle — loneliness — began presenting itself.

        “I knew leaving my family in Ukraine would be very hard,” Ms. Pylyayeva said. “But as soon as I got here, the Atwells sat me down and told me I was now a part of their family. That was a great help.”

        ’“The first four months were the worst. Not only was I terribly lonely for home, but I was also struggling much more than I expected with my English. The dialects and accents ... it was like learning to speak it all over again,” she said.

        “Meeting other international students helped me through those times.”

        Tom Cate, director of NKU's masters program, said she got involved in the university. ’“From graduate assistant in the dean's office her second year, to more recently, tutoring our Professor of Economics Gary Clayton in Russian ... all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA,” he said.

        Ms. Pylyayeva has accepted a salaried position with the NKU Information Technology department's administration.

        She wanted one more thing to make her stay complete.

        She has long wanted her mother, Zina, a mathematics teacher, to attend her graduation from an American university. In an effort to have her mother's’ visa application be as thorough as possible, she and the Atwells turned to Newport’Superintendent of Schools, Dan Sullivan for an official ’“Letter of Invitation.”

        The visa papers were submitted along with the invitation letter to Ukrainian officials, approval was granted, and her mother will be with her at today's graduation.


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- Graduation is end of long journey
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