Mari Carmen Ecoro, an immigrant from Central Africa, was 34 and raising two school-age daughters in Queens when she decided to complete her high school equivalency degree through WNET, the local New York public television station that offers a televised GED series.
Two degrees later, Ecoro was appointed a presidential adviser on education in her native country, the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.
This month, Ecoro receives her third degree, this time a master of science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education. “I always wanted, from a young age, to help my fellow human beings help themselves,” said Ecoro.
Ecoro’s educational distinctions are all the more striking considering that she married so young that her first child was born two weeks before her 16th birthday. She followed her first husband, a United Nations accountant, to the United States in 1984, had her second child and stayed here after they divorced. She has since remarried and is now a grandmother.
After getting her GED, Ecoro studied mental health at LaGuardia Community College and then majored in psychology at Queens College. Ecoro says she was always determined to complete her interrupted education and use it to contribute to the development of her native country, which gained independence in 1968 after two centuries as a Spanish colony.
Whenever students or others from Equatorial Guinea visited New York, she counseled them. “I always tell them the United States is not what some think of it based on what they see on television and movies,” she said. “It is about faith, hard work, self-discipline and service to others.”
Ecoro’s master’s thesis was titled "The Impact of Colonialism on the Education and on Cultural Identity Development of the African-Spanish." One of her goals for education programs in Equatorial Guinea is to help students develop their African cultural identity and learn about the contribution of African native music to the world.
Ecoro, who was appointed a presidential adviser in 2006, took some time off from work to pursue her education in the United States. “I just want to say, my goodness, I did it.”