Yolaine Mfinyom graduated from YES Prep North Forest in 2015. She’s now an IMPACT scholar at Vanderbilt University and a recipient of the Eugene H. Vaughan Family Scholarship in Entrepreneurial Excellence. Mfinyom recently declared political science as her major and corporate strategy as her minor.
Why did you choose to attend Vanderbilt?
My dad is an immigrant from Cameroon and he always wanted my brother and me to be a doctor or engineer. He sacrificed so much so we could be here, so it’s higher stakes– what we choose to do. In high school, I always thought I’d be a doctor, and I knew that Johns Hopkins had an excellent medical school. One of my teachers told me not to put all of my eggs in one basket. She wrote Vanderbilt on my list and told me to meet with a representative during the IMPACT Saturday (an event where IMPACT students and families can meet with representatives from partner colleges and universities.) The recruiter made Vanderbilt seem so friendly and inviting and as if there was more to it than academics. There would be museums and concerts and movie theaters. I also had two teachers who were alumni of Vanderbilt, so they were able to talk to me about what to expect. I applied and, in early March of my senior year, received an acceptance. They invited me to visit the campus for free as part of MOSAIC, their multicultural recruitment program. I fell in love with the people and the campus. The dorms were so spacious and bright and welcoming. I was so excited to show the place to my dad.
You originally planned to study pre-med but now you’re a political science major. Why did you switch?
I was taking chemistry and calculus my first semester and I realized I didn’t like it. It wasn’t just the difficulty level, it was that I’d do everything else I preferred first and save the work from those classes until the end. I had the biggest epiphany: I’m in college and am actually in charge of who I become. I can’t just go randomly picking careers. I need to decide what I’m passionate about. When I asked myself why I truly wanted to be a doctor, the answer was my dad, or the reputation and money. My dad is the most important person in my life, but he made sacrifices not just so I could become a doctor, but so that I would have options. I think I would have come to the same realization at another school, but I stuck through the semester and pushed through the difficulty because I was at Vanderbilt.
I started to investigate what I was interested in. I’ve always loved numbers and structures. I’ve also been the most engaged in government and US History classes. So I decided to see what political science and corporate strategy (Vanderbilt’s business classes) are all about. I was so happy in my financial accounting and fundamentals of management classes. The professor in my American government class was so interesting and made me feel comfortable taking risks. In terms of the future, I’m interested in law school, but I’m trying to run with my love for understanding systems and structures to see where it takes me.
What do you do outside of class?
Growing up, my house was a Habitat for Humanity home. I’m so thankful to that organization for providing me with a home. I had a garden and neighbors, and I will always cherish that. I wanted to get involved in the organization and did some builds by freshman year. This year, I applied to be on their junior executive board. It’s a stepping stone to the executive board. We plan events like our Gingerbread Jive, where students came to build gingerbread houses and learn about Habitat for Humanity. I also applied to do a spring break in New Orleans where we’ll build houses the whole week.
Additionally, I became part of Alternative Thanksgiving Break and stayed in Nashville for Thanksgiving working with the homeless community. We learned about the issues with displacement and government funding in Nashville and worked with some local programs. It was very eye-opening. While I may not have had everything growing up, my dad did the best so I never had to wonder how to get home or where to find food. Vandy is a bubble of safety and wealth, and it’s important to take yourself out of that bubble.
What did you carry with you from your YES Prep education?
When I was going through that difficult time freshman year, I reached out to my AP biology teacher at YES Prep North Forest, Helen Snodgrass. She was super supportive and talked me through my decisions. She’s one of those teachers that I feel like I’ll have in my life forever. That’s what I love about YES Prep. No matter where we go or how far away we are, the teachers are there for you.