By Stephanie Harp
When Valerie Laure Bilogue arrived in Maine from Cameroon in 2018, she already had a two-year degree in computer science and had worked as an information technology (IT) instructor. She knew she wanted to work in the computer field. After trying – without success – to transfer her credentials to Maine, she had to find another way. “I couldn’t really do anything else, only what I love,” she said.
In Presque Isle, where her husband is a nursing student, she enrolled in classes to obtain a general educational development, or GED, certificate, an equivalent to an American high school diploma. Then she began studying computer and networking technology at Northern Maine Community College (NMCC). “When I came to the United States, it was really difficult for me to pronounce even one word in English,” she said. Her first language was French. “It was so difficult to be integrated here as a full-time student, learning English,” she said. She had to translate everything she knew about computers from French to English. But she was determined. “I have some goals that I really want to achieve. That’s why I really worked hard to be here.”
She likes challenges. “Everybody who knows me knows that about me. I like the challenges. I need to know what I’m capable of,” she said. On top of being in school full time while learning English, the youngest of her four children was only three months old when she started at NMCC. “It was really, really hard, taking care of the baby, not sleeping the night. I worked double time.”
Because of the children, many people advised her to go into nursing, saying it was a better field for a mother. “I told them, ‘No, I would not be comfortable there.’ I need something where I would be comfortable, doing something I like. That’s why I entered the computer field.”
In June, Laure Bilogue also became a student trustee on the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees. She was nominated by Gov. Janet Mills and confirmed by the Maine Senate. She credits the people of NMCC and throughout the community college system with helping her, and that’s why she wanted to join the board – to help others see that community colleges are a good option. “A lot of immigrants I know are afraid: ‘Where are you living now? How is it working?’ they ask. I don’t want immigrants to be afraid to go to college. Because [MCCS] is really open to helping everyone who wants to go to school,” she said. “They only need to be educated. They only need to go and to work hard.”
As a board member, she wants to encourage anyone to continue with an education. “Anyone who has a goal, a vision that maybe they were afraid to achieve. Maybe they think they are not young enough to achieve it. No. I really want to show them that all things are possible for all immigrants, and not only immigrants but every adult Mainer.” When she started, she only planned to go to school. “I didn’t even imagine going really farther, like getting nominated. I only wanted to go to school to achieve my education, get my degree.”
After graduating from NMCC in May as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, she is taking on even more challenges. This fall she began an online bachelor’s degree program through the University of Maine at Augusta, studying cyber security. “I would like to, maybe in two-and-a-half years, get my bachelor’s degree and maybe continue in a master’s program,” she said. “After that, I need to know if I have the strength in me to continue to more. I don’t want to stop before my master’s degree.” Meanwhile, she works full time as an IT technician at Cary Medical Center in Caribou.
Meeting challenges inspires her children, who are now 13, 11, 6, and 2, to meet and even exceed their mother’s accomplishments. Her oldest child, a daughter, tells her, “I think I will get more degrees and more honors than you, Mom.” Laure Bilogue, who is the first in her family to attend college, said her daughter works hard. “She got really good grades because she sees me like her model. And she wants to be more.”
In addition to inspiring her children, Valerie Laure Bilogue is focused on her message: “I wanted to show that it’s possible, at any age and any time in the life of a women – even though you have children, even though you are a wife – to continue to go to school, to continue your education, and attain your goal and attain your wishes,” she said. “It’s not impossible. That’s something I wanted to show everyone.”