| June 2006
A stranger’s generous gift of help can transform not
only the life of the individual recipient, but also the lives of many
others through a ripple effect, as Timanto Marima, ’99, can attest.
When Marima, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, and a member
of the Masai tribe, graduated from high school in 1992, her prospects
for pursuing a college education appeared dim. The faculty of Kenya’s
four public universities went on strike November 29, 1993, after the
government rejected their application to unionized, effectively
shutting down Kenya’s university system for a prolonged period.
Without access to higher education, Marima pondered
her likely fate: a lifetime of submission and servitude in a
traditional Kenyan marriage.
But her forward-thinking parents wanted more for her.
Marima’s father, then a civil servant in Kenya, had studied
biochemistry at Ohio State University in the 1960s. Her mother had
attended junior college in Kenya. Active supporters of women’s rights,
they encouraged their daughter to obtain a quality college education
abroad, Marima said. But how?
Enter Evelia González Porto. A native of Cartagena,
Colombia, Porto arrived in the United States in 1979, eventually
settling in Richmond, Virginia, where she has cultivated two great
passions: supporting Hispanic women in the arts and finding
scholarships for international students, especially underserved women,
to attend U.S. colleges and universities.
“Educating young women has always been a priority for
me,” said Porto, a former principal of a Colombian girls’ school. “If
you change a woman, you change a family.”
Porto met the Kenyan ambassador to the United States
at a function in Petersburg, Va., and the ambassador subsequently
put Marima’s father in touch with Porto. With Porto’s help, Marima
came to Virginia. Porto, who served on the Richard Bland College
Foundation Board at the time, used her connections to enroll
Marima in classes at the two-year junior college in Petersburg,
Va., in fall 1995.
Porto’s friendship eased Marima’s transition to a new
country, as did the friendship of another mentor, Linda Jefferson, an
English professor at Richard Bland College.
Fortunately Marima did not have to contend with a
language barrier, as she already spoke English (the official state
language of Kenya) fluently, in addition to Swahili and Masai. With
time she adjusted to the cold winters, and accustomed to a spicy diet,
she learned to compensate for the relative blandness of American food
by pouring ketchup on everything she ate, she said.
In fall 1997 after completing two years of study at
Richard Bland College, Marima received a scholarship which enabled her
to transfer to the Jepson School to pursue a four-year degree in
leadership studies, Porto said.
“Timanto added a unique cultural perspective to our
[class] discussions,” said
Joanne Ciulla, who taught Marima in an
ethics class. “She had a great passion for learning and for social
justice. We all learned more in the course because she was in the
Marima, for her part, responded favorably to the
different approach to higher education in the United States,
particularly in the Jepson School.
“Very formal relationships between the students and
faculty characterize the educational system in Kenya,” she said. “In
Kenya, students don’t interrupt the professor in class, wear shorts to
class or drink coffee in class. Jepson students had a much more
relaxed, comfortable relationship with their professors.
“The Kenyan system doesn’t encourage critical
thinking. At Jepson, I liked the small class size, the fact that
students could question the professor in class and the school’s team
approach to learning.
“The team-management skills I learned at Jepson have
enabled me to get to where I am today. The team-building exercises and
case studies from my Jepson classes became the foundation for the way
I run my meetings at work.”
In particular, Marima recalled a class titled "Leadership
in International Contexts" taught by former Virginia attorney general
Mary Sue Terry, then a visiting professor at Jepson. The course helped
ignite Marima’s interest in international business and introduced her
to the cultural differences that affect the way business is conducted
in international contexts.
Marima also remembered the first time she met
University of Richmond president
William Cooper. “I was attending a
reception for international students,” she said, “where I had a
one-minute conversation with him. He emailed me the next day and asked
me to come by his office for a chat.”
When they met for that chat, Cooper, who had been the
executive vice president at Georgetown University before coming to the
University of Richmond, suggested that Marima pursue a master’s degree
in Georgetown University’s elite foreign-service program. “He gave me
direction,” Marima said. “I would like to thank him for that.”
Marima took Cooper’s advice. After graduating from
University of Richmond in spring 1999 with a major in leadership
studies and a minor in business, she entered Georgetown’s
foreign-service graduate program in fall 1999. She focused on
international economics and international diplomacy and completed
internships with the World Bank and Citigroup.
When she graduated from Georgetown University in May
2001, she went to work in the New York office of
Citigroup. Today she
holds a middle-management position in Citigroup’s Global Transaction
Services Division and is on track for advancing to upper management.
In her current role as a vice president of cash-sales
consulting, she offers investment advice to multinational corporations
with minimum revenues of $1 billion and a geographic presence on at
least three continents, she said.
Although her job often requires long hours—a request
for a 9:00 a.m. meeting from a Korean client, for example, translates
into a 9:00 p.m. meeting for Marima—and extensive traveling, Marima
described her work as “absolutely magnificent.” She enjoys staying
abreast of international news and earning the trust and respect of her
clients, she said.
“In my job it is important to understand how global
economic events affect different countries,” Marima said. “I have to
understand how multinational corporations strategize in response to
the U.S. trade deficit or to a spike in oil prices, for example.”
Marima credited her Jepson education with helping her
develop the presentation and communication skills so essential to the
work she does with her clients. “You must quickly understand your
client’s issue, come up with a solution and then articulate that
solution in a way your client can understand,” Marima said. “If you
can’t articulate a point, your client loses confidence in your ability
“I have a strong work ethic that enables me to take
the initiative, take risks and lead something,” Marima said. “I am
constantly challenging myself, always working within the purview of
what is ethical and moral.
“Every day at every meeting I want to impart
something to someone else, to offer value to someone else and not just
be taking, taking. I want to be a transformative leader rather than a
Marima exercises transformative leadership in the
work she does outside the office as well. She talked about her friend
Twana Twitu, who left a successful career to found and operate an
orphanage in Kenya for children whose parents had died of AIDS. Marima
and others do their best to help Twitu raise funds to ensure that the
200 children now living at the orphanage will have access to such
basics as clothing, food, medicine and education.
Once helped by a stranger-turned-mentor to achieve
her dream of a college education, Marima expressed a desire to help
others achieve their dreams. One day she would like to start a
micro-finance banking program for poor women in Kenya. “I hope to give
back to the world through this type of initiative,” Marima said.
Porto couldn’t be prouder of the young woman she
fondly calls “my daughter.”