Masiala Umba grew up in Africa and saw the struggles of many locals there. Now a recent Saint Leo University communication degree alumna, she would love to put her skills to use by lending a helping hand to those in her native land.

Umba, who often goes by "Mas" for short, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 41-year-old now lives in Irvine, CA. She moved to the United States in February of 2003. She recounts the family's journey to the U.S.

"My dad worked for the national government at the time," Umba explains. "When the president left, my dad also had to leave the country because it wasn't safe for us to stay there."

She first relocated from Congo to Ivory Coast. She then moved to Europe, landing in Belgium. Her next stop was Montreal, Quebec in Canada before making her way south to California. Her parents ultimately moved from South Africa to the U.S. several years later in 2016.

Pursuing Higher Education as an Adult Learner

Prior to Saint Leo University, Umba attended Santa Ana College in her 30s where she attained an Associate of Arts in communications degree in 2016.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lawyer," she says. "For college, I wanted to study in a field where I could find a career in which I could express myself well. A family member suggested I go for communications. I ended up liking it and stuck with it which is why I went on for the bachelor's degree."

After completing her associate degree program, she was on the hunt for a university.

"I was browsing the Web and researching schools with communication degree programs," she says. "I came across Saint Leo University and watched some YouTube videos on the school. The campus looked very nice and since I'm also Catholic, it resonated with me."

Ultimately, she applied to two universities. Saint Leo was the first one to respond. So, she picked up and moved across the country to Florida to attend University Campus. She enrolled in the BA in communication degree program in the fall of 2017.

Memorable Saint Leo Faculty

During her first semester, she took an English class with Dr. Kathryn Duncan.

"I thought Dr. Duncan was great," Umba says. "I hadn't been interested in writing for a while. She actually made me like writing again."

She also found Dr. Kenneth Embry to be an engaging instructor in her communication degree courses.

"He was definitely my favorite professor there," she says. "I took his podcasting class and thought it was pretty neat. I learned so much from him."

Plus, she appreciated the support of Dr. Diane Monahan. Overall, her favorite course in the BA program was Applied Communication Theory.

A True Family Atmosphere

In terms of Saint Leo University's core values, Umba found them to be very impactful on her both on campus and even as a virtual learner later in her degree program.

"As a catholic woman, I really relate to the core value of community a lot. On campus, you get to know your professors and fellow students very well. Even online, you still feel that strong connection to the community. I never felt alone as a student. Excellence also resonated with me. I felt like my professors wanted us to be the best versions of ourselves and produce high-quality work in our classes, but it never felt like added pressure or anything."

And why would she recommend others consider Saint Leo for higher education?

"I would tell anyone that it's a fantastic school. The faculty are great and u can talk to them whenever u need their support. They make time before and after class to meet with you. Also, the smaller class sizes make it so much easier to get to know both your instructors and fellow classmates."

An Unanticipated Move and Support from Afar

In 2018, Umba unexpectedly had to move back to California to care for her parents.

"The university was nice enough to let me continue in the program online," she says. "This meant a lot to me and once again demonstrated their core values."

She proudly made the Dean's List during her time as a student. She graduated with her bachelor's degree in the spring of 2021 and even flew in from California to attend the commencement ceremony held at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Career History and Goals

Before pursuing her associate degree, Umba started her career in healthcare. She worked as a home health aide and certified nursing assistant, caring for patients facing various physical health challenges. She then spent a few years in customer service for CVS Pharmacy. Most recently, she has been a caregiver to her parents.

She is now seeking employment in the communication field. She also has her eyes on an idea she's been pondering for several years.

"My dream would be to either work for or start some type of humanitarian organization," she explains. "I recently went back to visit Congo for 3 weeks. I realized how many people over there really need help. I'd like to focus on human trafficking to help women and children avoid this terrible epidemic."

While always serving others throughout her life both personally and professionally, she explains what has inspired her desire to make an even bigger impact on the world.

"As a child, I was lucky enough to grow up in the capital city of Congo," she says. "Since my dad worked for the government, we were fairly wealthy compared to many others there. But my dad was an orphan and had to care for his younger brothers. My mom also has such a big heart and has instilled this value of helping others in my siblings and I as well. As a family, if someone ever needed something, we would try to give back. We would have family members stay over at our house if they needed a place to stay. All of this made me more sensitive to others' situations because I want to help those who are less fortunate."

She is confident that the communication skills she learned in her Saint Leo University degree program would be integral to her success in such meaningful work.