Princess Rita Tamakloe (third from left) earned her master’s degree in adult and higher education from UMSL on Saturday. After leaving her home in Ghana two years ago to attend UMSL, her family made the trip to the United States to watch her graduate. Pictured (from left) are her husband, Rev. King Joshua, and daughters Jochebed and Abigail. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Princess Rita Tamakloe has mixed feelings about ending her time at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She’s excited to get back to her family and start her new life, but she will take with her a valuable education, eye-opening experiences and her newfound health.

Tamakloe, who earned a master’s degree in adult and higher education from UMSL on Saturday, left her home in Ghana two years ago to travel to the United States and matriculate at the university. She was working as a high school science teacher, raising two young daughters, Abigail and Jochebed, and supporting her husband, Rev. King Joshua Tamakloe, and his church, Assemblies of God International Church in Ghana.

“I wanted to do more,” Tamakloe said.

So with encouragement from her sister, who was earning a business degree from UMSL, she began looking into the programs offered.

“I went on the website and saw UMSL had a degree in higher education and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,'” she said.

Tamakloe enrolled and was accepted, but leaving her family behind wasn’t easy.

“I cried everyday,” she said. “I missed them so much, but I knew I was here for a purpose and I needed to stay.”

Part of that purpose came to light in the summer of 2012 when she started to feel sick.

“I was getting bad headaches, and I wasn’t feeling well,” she said. “Everyone kept telling me to go to the doctor, but I had class and finals.”

Finally after enough pushing from Shawn Woodhouse, assistant professor of higher education administration at UMSL, she went to UMSL’s Health, Wellness and Counseling Services. She was referred to a doctor and then a specialist. A cancerous lump was found on Tamakloe’s breast. She was immediately scheduled for surgery to remove the mass. It also happened to be the same week she was to give an oral presentation in class.

“Professor Woodhouse told me I didn’t need to be there,” she said. “But if I stayed home, what would my classmates think?”

Tamakloe gave her presentation, only to receive a call after class that she would need the same procedure repeated the following week.

“I was all alone and scared,” she said. “My husband wanted to come, but he needed to stay with his church.”

Instead, Woodhouse sat with her. After two surgeries within two weeks, Tamakloe was given a clean bill of health and decided to take the few weeks between classes to return home to Ghana.

“I needed to see my family,” she said. “They were worried, and I needed to tell them I was OK. In my hometown, there are no facilities that have the equipment to do a mammogram. You have to travel several hours. Because I was here, at this time, doing this, I’m OK. It saved my life.”

Tamakloe, who paid her tuition without any assistance, said she is forever grateful for her health, but also credits UMSL with giving her an exciting future. In addition to her degree, she earned a Certificate in Student Affairs and Leadership. She’s been a teaching assistant at the Center for Human Origin and Cultural Diversity, treasurer for the Higher Education Students Organization and she’s attended workshops with the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life. She received a 2013 UMSL Advance Leaders Program award.

“When I go home I would like to teach at a university or work in higher education administration,” she said, “and who knows, maybe politics.”

Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton