When Enxhi Kuqi sat in class at Aleksander Moisiu University in the fall of 2016, she pretty much knew how the next few years of her life would play out. She had already accepted a full-time job with Vodafone Albania as a human resources assistant, a position she would start upon graduation in December of that year. She had planned on growing her career within that company while pursuing a Master’s degree on the side. It would be a nice life, but not the one she envisioned and hoped for. Enxhi had greater aspirations. Enxhi aspired to have a successful career in the data analytics consulting field.

Up until that point, she had lived in Albania her whole life. It was everything she had known. But after a while, she yearned for new experiences and bigger opportunities. Also, in order to pursue a successful career in data and consulting, she knew she would have better opportunities elsewhere. That elsewhere was the United States. “The reason that I wanted to leave Albania was to experience new cultures, see myself in another angle, look for more challenges, and to see what opportunities the U.S. held and if I could accomplish them,” said Enxhi.

Enxhi knew she wanted to pursue a career in the United States. The arduous process of getting there was the problem. In order to move to the United States to pursue  higher education, Enxhi had to apply for the Diversity Visa Program, also known as the green card lottery. The Diversity Visa Program issues 55,000 immigrant visas annually from all over the world. Enxhi and her family had been applying for the lottery ever since her uncle had won it and moved to the United States some 25 years earlier. “We applied so many times, but we never won. When my best friend won it in 2014, I was like ‘Why can’t that be me?’” added Enxhi.

In October of 2016, Enxhi entered her name again into the green card lottery. Now 21 years old, she had to apply individually and not as a family. During that same year, 315,842 other Albanian citizens also applied. Of that total, only 2,436 of them were successful and issued visas, which equates to a mere 0.7%. Enxhi’s chances of being issued a green card to live in the United States were 100 times lower than being admitted into Virginia Tech. 

In January of 2017, Enxhi began her full-time job at Vodafone Albania. She hadn’t heard anything regarding her visa application, and wasn’t expecting much. She wasn’t going to put her future on hold for a dream that may never come true. 

On May 2, 2017, some 7 months after initially applying for a green card, the lottery results were finally in. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it at all. I had given up hope, so when I went to look at the results and the server wasn’t loading, I thought I’d just check it the next morning.” The next morning when she walked into work and finally looked at the results, she was stunned. “When I read that I had won, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I asked my co-worker to read it for me and check that I read it right. She said I had won, but she was confused on what I had won.” What Enxhi had won was a chance, a chance to start a life she always dreamed of.

Enxhi continued to work for Vodafone Albania until the end of 2017. During that time, she had to figure out where she was going to live in the United States and what she was going to do. The answer to the first question was simple. Enxhi would live with her uncle, Emro, the one who won the lottery 25 years earlier and who had created a successful life for himself and his family in the United States.

When Emro moved to the United States, he decided to settle close to a cousin of his, who would act as his sponsor. His cousin, Daiphea, was a then-student at Virginia Tech, so he settled in Blacksburg, Virginia. 25 years later, Emro works as a physical therapist at the nearby Carillon Clinic.

On January 27, 2018, Enxhi left Durrës, Albania and finally made the move to the United States. In Blacksburg, Virginia she stayed with her uncle Emro, his wife Suede, and their daughter Feidre. Emro provided Enxhi her own car, room, and cooked for her every day. “They have treated me like their daughter, taking care of me, supporting me all the time. Every time I have had any doubts I have discussed it with them and they have always tried to figure out what could work best for me,” said Enxhi

“My first plan after arriving was to work and to improve my English language skills, my second plan was to go to school as soon as possible,” said Enxhi. Emro convinced Enxhi to find work in Virginia Tech Dining Services at Turner Hall, a place he had worked some 20 years earlier. Emro told Enxhi that many international students worked there, so it was a great opportunity to meet others with similar experiences as her. On the first day of her new job at Soup Garden, her manager asked Enxhi if he could make a slight modification to her name tag. “He said that ‘Enxhi’ would be hard to pronounce for the customers, so he changed my name tag to ‘Angie’. I had no problem with it since my name is pronounced the same way as Angie.”

While working at Soup Garden, she enrolled in an English class at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute in Fall 2018. Even though she had taken a few English classes in Albania, she did not have a great grasp of the language and had a hard time holding a conversation. 

While Enxhi did find a job and was progressing in her knowledge of the English language, she was having a tough time enacting the next part of her plan: finding the right program to further her education and interests in data consulting. “The first question that pops out on campus when we meet new people is, ‘What is your major?’ I wasn’t a student yet so I had no answer. But I was always looking for a program that fit me,” said Enxhi.

“One day, I was at a party and was talking to my roommate’s friend, David. He listened to what I wanted out of a program and he got so excited. He told me about the MSBA-BA program at CBIA and said it would fit me perfectly,” said Enxhi. David was a graduate of the MSBA-BA program and loved his experience there.

“From that moment I started researching it and it sounded fantastic. I would get to work with real clients on real projects, gain experience with coding, and it’s only 1 year!” exclaimed Enxhi. She applied immediately and by May 2019 she was participating in a series of interviews conducted by Dr. Cliff Ragsdale (Academic Director, CBIA) and Mike Flint (Associate Director, CBIA) to see if she would be accepted into the program. “I really enjoyed those interviews,” said Enxhi. “Most questions were about leadership and how I was trying to improve my life. After explaining my story and where I wanted to be, I feel like I made an impression.”

In August 2019, Enxhi participated in her first class as a graduate student in Pamplin’s Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics. “I was so shy on the first day because everything was so new to me.” Enxhi quickly adapted to her new environment through the support of new classmates and instructors. “When moving from Albania, the transition was very challenging. Adjusting to student and university life was particularly challenging. Mike (Flint) and the MSBA-BA team made the transition a lot easier.”

Enxhi also rapidly increased her knowledge and skills in business and data analytics consulting. “I’ve gained valuable coding skills in languages such as Python and SQL, and applications such as Tableau. Due to the fact that I had no prior experience coding, I felt like I had to work twice as hard as the other students to catch up, but it has been very rewarding.” Along with being a student in the MSBA-BA program, Enxhi serves as a Graduate Assistant conducting market research for CBIA.

For the capstone project, the cornerstone activity of the MSBA-BA program, Enxhi is currently working with Norfolk Southern to produce robotic process automation for Norfolk Sothern’s internal and external databases. “I’ve had an amazing experience working on my capstone project with Norfolk Southern. Getting real world experience was a big reason why I wanted join the MSBA-BA program, so getting this opportunity with Norfolk Southern is very rewarding.”

Mike Flint, the Associate Director of the Program, has seen tremendous development from her during her time in the program. “Angie has grown significantly during our program. Not only is she more confident, poised, and self-assured, but she understands business processes and customer interface as well,” added Flint. Enxhi credits Flint for her growth in these areas though. “Mike has taught me so much about working and interacting with clients, and inspires us to do our best every day,” said Enxhi.

Enxhi’s road here wasn’t easy. She faced multiple barriers and seemingly insurmountable odds to come to the United States and find an education and career path that suited her. While she did find just that, she now realizes that she found so much more. “Our class is such a welcoming group. This program teaches you to collaborate and learn from one another, and we help each other whenever we are struggling,” said Enxhi. “I call it my MSBA-BA family.”