When Nana Nimako moved to New York City from Ghana at the age of 16 he knew he’d found a kindred spirit in Lasana Drame. Having returned to the U.S. from Gambia four years earlier, Drame was eager to help his new friend adjust to life at Eximius High School in the Bronx.

 “When I met Lasana, we really connected on a different level,” recalls Nimako. “He was from West Africa so it was nice to meet someone from a similar place who had been in New York awhile.”

 The new acquaintances soon became best friends and would later share a journey from Eximius to the University of Vermont, where they graduated in 2022 as part of the first class of a new partnership between UVM and Eximius. The alliance stemmed from a landmark partnership between UVM and the Bronx that CFES Brilliant Pathways started 22 years earlier when 14 students from Christopher Columbus High first came to UVM.  More than 400 students from the Bronx have attended UVM through the partnership. 

 “It hasn’t always been easy, but we had good mentors along the way,” says Drame, who chose UVM so he could continue mentoring his Eximius peers when they arrived on campus (nine came to UVM the following year). “If someone helped you, you should do the same for someone else.”

 This summer, the two friends reached another milestone: Drame started working as an electrical engineering associate at the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Nimako as a software engineer at Goldman Sachs back home in New York. The other three members of the inaugural partnership class – Samara Mohammad, Daisha Miller and Ama Sika, who works as a medical social worker at Mount Sinai Hospital – also graduated and landed jobs. 

 “When I met my CFES program director Lisa (Nelson), I knew at that very moment she would become my mentor for life,” said Sika, who graduated early and just finished a master’s degree in social work at NYU. “She was present for my high school, UVM and NYU graduations. CFES has always played a special role in my heart. They have been through all my life journey and all the milestones. I am forever grateful to CFES.”

 For Drame, it was CFES Program Director Angel Acosta’s mentorship and guidance through a series of leadership summits and networking activities that he credits with his college and career success. “Coming from an underrepresented community, it can be hard to find a good role model, and Angel was that for me,” said Drame. “In college, I always remembered what he taught me about networking and leadership and tried to pass it along to the younger generation.”

 Drame said he applied those lessons at a job fair of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) when he was unexpectedly asked to interview the next day for his current job. In preparation, he recalled what he’d learned from Acosta and three professionals from Google who were at a CFES leadership summit. “I put myself in the shoes of the interviewer and thought about what I would want to hear if I was them.” 

Drame was offered the job on the spot. “I can wholeheartedly say that the leadership and networking skills I acquired through CFES helped me get this job.”

 Not far away, at another booth, Drame’s best friend was having similar success with a recruiter from Goldman Sachs. Two weeks after his interview, Nimako was offered his current job. 

 “Seeing me now, you might think that I didn’t struggle,” said Nimako, who credits Dr. Alexander Yin, executive director of institutional research and assessment at UVM, for being his mentor. “I always tell young people to ask for help, because if I asked for more, my journey would have been easier. I could have made some bad choices just to try and fit in at Eximius, but I had support and stayed true to my core ethics.”

 Drame, Nimako and Sika plan to continue giving back by mentoring the next generation of students. Drame, whose older sister starts medical school in the fall, will have his hands full with his own 13 siblings. He just moved his younger brother into Howard University, attended the graduation of another brother from auto tech school, and has a sister headed to Cornell.

 After that, he can start working with his 10 other siblings who are in preschool, elementary, middle and high school. “My time in CFES and in Gambia made me realize how much I enjoy helping people. I benefited from people like Angel and now I get just as much giving back by mentoring others.”