Although most of MCLA's students come from Massachusetts and throughout the New England region, the College increasingly attracts undergraduates from around the world. This group of international students includes Soumaila Bance '12, from the Ivory Coast.
Bance, who's majoring in political science and public policy, also attended college in Burkina Faso, another West African country, where he earned a bachelor's degree in arts and foreign civilizations from the University of Ouagadougou.
Soon after he became an American citizen, he joined the Massachusetts National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan, where he conducted land mind removal as part of the 379th Engineer Company Detachment 1.
Upon his return to the Commonwealth, he married a woman from his homeland, and now they're parents of a baby boy. These days, Bance balances fatherhood with college and his full-time job as a thermography press operator at nearby Crane and Company.
It was Bance's father who instilled in him the desire to use education as a vehicle to accomplish his dreams. Despite the bachelor's degree he earned in Africa, diplomas from other parts of the world aren't always fully recognized in the United States.
"If I wanted to go further in my schooling, I had to abide by the principles of the American institutions," he explained. "That is how I ended up at MCLA. It was very convenient for me because my workplace is located right here in North Adams."
It's not easy to be a student with responsibilities beyond those of the typical undergraduate. "But, once you know the responsibilities that are yours, you will best manage your time and define what your priorities are," Bance said. "Some nights, I have to stay awake in order to study and finish assignments that are due the next day. I use my lunch time to catch with some sleep."
His choice to major in political science and public policy was motivated by the desire to know more about politics. "I am amazed by the open lies made by the politicians to the people who, in the great majority, have no clue of the real ins and outs of politics," he explained.
Because he enjoys working with the public, Bance plans to employ his degree wherever he is needed by others - whether that's within the field of social work or as a community organizer.
A highlight of his MCLA experience has been the opportunity to engage in many classroom debates with his professors and other students.
"Even when they were simulated, some of these debates reflected the facts in the real world, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Arab Spring that recently shook the political and social arena of the Middle East," he said.
Bance, who plans to pursue graduate studies in political science and public policy, said Dr. Robert Bence made a particularly strong impression on him.
"He is so knowledgeable, I learned a lot from him. He has positively inspired me and has always managed to find time in his tight schedule to meet up with me whenever I requested a meeting," Bance said.
"MCLA is definitely the place that gives one a sense of belonging, where you don't feel out of place at all," he added. "It is to me the warmest place I could not have even thought of. It is a vibrant and lovely community that connects so well with the North Adams residents through various academic and community activities. ... Overall, it's been an amazing experience."