The U.S Department of State provides up to 55,000 diversity visas to countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. For 25-year-old physiology major Pingdewinde Sam, his chance of coming to the United States was greater than he thought.
Sam was among the lucky 7 percent of applicants who were chosen to receive a diversity visa also known as a green card visa, from his country of Burkina Faso in West Africa through a randomized computer drawing in 2008.
At the age of 19, the high school graduate said he left his country to make his way to the U.S. Sam said his older brother forced him to apply in hopes that both would be selected, but only Sam was chosen.
“My brother was excited for me, but I still didn’t want to come,” Sam said. “My parents said ‘You have an opportunity to go, so go and give it a try.’”
Education had always been important to Sam’s family. When public schools where overcrowded, Sam said his father made sure his four children attended private school despite the cost.
Sam has upheld his father’s devotion towards education and will graduate from SF State this spring to attend Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the fall where he will pursue a doctoral degree in cellular molecular medicine.
Before transferring to SF State from City College of San Francisco in 2012, he spent eight months working at the intensive care unit at the university of California, San Francisco, which he said ultimately helped shape his future.
While at UCSF, he met his long-time mentor and advisor Dr. Linda Noble-Haeusslein, professor of neurosurgery, physical therapy and rehabilitation science.
“While he came into the lab untrained in the methods that we used, he also showed an impressive commitment to the project and enormous enthusiasm to learn and grow as a scientist,” Noble-Haeusslein said in an email. She said she once saw him reading a scientific paper with the margins entirely filled with notes and a dictionary by his side.
Sam’s first English teacher was his uncle Béniwendé Kabré, who also came to the U.S. on a Diversity Visa in 2005 and attended the University of California, Davis. Sam said he didn’t know how to say “Nice to meet you,” in English before moving in with his uncle in San Francisco.
“Every young person in Burkina Faso wants to come the U.S. It’s another opportunity,” Kabré said.
Frank Bayliss, Director of the Student Enrichment Opportunities Office, a program of the college of science and engineering at SF State said he has seen Sam work hard and focused on to become a research scientist.
“He has managed to get to the U.S. from a very underdeveloped country and find his way to excel in everything he does,” Bayliss said. “Imagine coming to the U.S. with no family or help and starting your higher education at a community college with little more than a strong desire.”
But besides developing his own education, Sam said he wanted to give back to his community and people of Burkina Faso.
Sam founded an organization in 2011 called Teêbo, which means hope in Moore, the national language in Burkina Faso. The non-profit organization helps provide educational assistance and humanitarian aid to the people of Burkina Faso, according to the Teêbo website.
“I founded Teêbo from the desire to serve and love my people,” Sam said. He said instead of providing money to those in need, he provides them with educational tools that can help them succeed.
Besides working withTeêbo,Sam’s long-term goal is to supply more educational and medical assistance to the 18 million people living in Africa, he said.
“My main goal is to own a lab and do research — that’s the first thing — but at the same time I want to be part of scientific research in Africa as a continent and in developing countries,” Sam said.
Sam said he believes SF State has better prepared him as a student and future scientist and wants to continue to give back.
“Malaria and tuberculosis still affect a lot of people in my country of Burkina Faso and other countries,” Sam said. “There has been a lot of improvement compared to five years ago, but I feel like I have something to give back to my community.”