Nargiza Kiger, a native of Uzbekistan, always knew she would have to go the distance to earn a college degree. “Growing up in a male-dominant society, I realized that only through education would I gain confidence and make my voice heard,” she says.

Although Uzbek women make up only 38 percent of higher education graduates, Nargiza, determined to get her degree, enrolled at a university in Kyrgyz Republic.

While completing her first courses, she fell in love with a North Carolina Peace Corps volunteer. The two married, and Nargiza transferred to his hometown of Winston-Salem, where she continued her education at Forsyth Technical Community College and earned an associate degree.

Back in her homeland, conflict served as a tragic reminder that education can be hard to come by. “There was an ethnic clash in the same town as the university where I met my husband,” she recounts. “They burned the entire university down. There one day, gone the next. All of the records were destroyed. It was like the students had never gone to school there.”

Although Nargiza had avoided the clashes in Kyrgyzstan, her educational path was still unclear. With a husband in international development, another move was inevitable. What she needed was a fully online program that would allow her to earn her bachelor’s degree from any location around the world. Soon after she and her husband moved to Nigeria, Nargiza discovered UNCG’s Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies (BLS) online program thanks to the mentorship of Beth Walker, a senior lecturer and advisor in the Women’s and Gender Studies program.

“I could immediately see that the program design was different [from taking individual online courses],” she says. With a steady and supportive academic program in place, she mapped out the path to her degree.

One of her first assignments was a research project for Dr. Gwen Hunnicutt’s “Collective Violence and Non-Violence” class. She chose to study Nigeria’s Ogoni people. “They live on land rich in oil,” she explains. “Spills were ruining their farmland. In the early ’90s, they organized a non-violent movement against the Nigerian government, but they were silenced and all of their leaders were killed.”

Nargiza complemented her research with an internship at Chemonics International. The Washington, DC-based international development company partners with local and international organizations to promote social and economic change.

The change Nargiza wanted to promote was for marginalized female farmers. “Chemonics delivers improved techniques for growing rice and other key staple crops. They introduce farmers to new technologies, proper use of fertilizers, sustainable practices. My job was to assist in managing local subcontracts and reach more female farmers.”

After three years, Nargiza and her husband left Nigeria for Ghana, never missing a step in her program. They’ve been there for a year now. At times, unreliable power and internet have made things challenging, but her professors have been supportive. Nargiza keeps her perspective by remembering how rare quality education is in some parts of the world, something she’s written about on the BLS blog.

As she’s moved through the BLS online program, she’s realized a significant advantage of her location. “I can relate the theoretical knowledge I learn in class to what is happening on the ground here,” she says.

Often, she shares that what she learns with her friends in Ghana. “I think of my political economy class. It’s refreshing to share with those not in school how resources affect a country or why the Ghana exchange rate against the US dollar weakens by the day. My classes help me see the bigger picture.”

Over the years, she’s made periodic visits to meet with her professors on campus. In December, she’ll make the best trip yet when she dons her cap and gown accepts her diploma. Sharing her education with others is one of her goals.

“My plan post-graduation is to continue working for international development projects,” Nargiza says. “I know how important education is for personal growth. A high-quality education gave me opportunities I had only dreamed of, and I want to be part of the force that brings the same educational opportunities to others.”

Story by Andrea Spencer, University Relations

Photography by Brian Kiger

Contributors: UNCG students Alyscia Conley, Taylor Fitz, Kyle Fitzsimmons and Kelly Jarvis