Liz and Peace both receive an AS Degree in Engineering Science, are members of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society and reflect the public service and humanitarian values of their high-achieving family.
May 23, 2019

Sisters Receive The Same Degree Together in Commencement 2019

Spotlight on the Class of 2019


When sisters Elizabeth (Liz) Okoko and Peace Okoko graduate this week in the 47th Commencement, they leave behind a living legacy: two more Okoko sisters who are PCCC students. We love PCCC,” says Liz. “We told our sisters to come here, too.”

Originally from Kenya, Liz and Peace both receive an Associate in Science Degree in Engineering Science, are members of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society and reflect the public service and humanitarian values of their high-achieving family.

Their father is an urban planner, mostly in the U.S., and their mother holds a master’s degree in public health and was formerly a teacher. An older sister works in Norway as an environmentalist.

Liz plans to continue her education at Rutgers-Newark or NJIT toward a bachelor’s degree.  “I want to be a chemical engineer and develop pharmaceuticals that are effective, but don’t have the serious side effects that cause people so much suffering.” she said.

Peace will pursue her bachelor’s degree at Bard College in upstate New York. “My goal is to build prostheses, mainly for hospitals in Kenya, where there is a real need for them,” she said.

At 25, Liz is the third oldest of the six Okoko siblings. There is also an older brother. “He’s a free spirit. “We’re not really sure what he’s up to,” said Peace who, at 18, is the youngest.

Liz graduated from high school in Kenya and attended Moi University in Nairobi for a year, but then moved to the U.S. before completing her education. Initially, she had enrolled at a different community college in New Jersey,but found it too expensive and said the college was not very helpful to her.

“A friend suggested I try PCCC ,” said Liz.  “When I came here everyone was so welcoming and nice.
I really feel that at PCCC, I have people behind me who are ready to support me.”

Peace had more experience than Liz in the American school system, but when she was in the eighth grade, the family returned to Kenya and she attended school there.  “When we came back to the U.S.
I was tested and bumped up a grade,” she said. She graduated from Hackensack High School at age 16, and, encouraged by Liz, also enrolled at PCCC.

“Almost immediately, I received a letter saying I could qualify for Phi Theta Kappa,” said Peace. She was impressed that the College and Professor Jennifer Gasparino, the faculty advisor to PTK, saw her potential and reached out to her. “They really care about you here,” said Peace. “They go out of their way to help you succeed.”

Peace became a very active member of Alpha Eta Chi, the PCCC chapter of PTK, and served as secretary on the chapter executive board this past year. “Being part of PTK and working together with other members was amazing,” she said. Along with some of the other graduating Kappans, Peace plans to continue her relationship with PTK as an alumna and will be a presenter over the summer at an OER (Open Educational Resources) event.

Also a member of the Honors Program, which offers high-achieving students a more intense and challenging learning experience, Peace said,  “I love all the opportunities I’ve had at PCCC, but the only thing I miss is sleep.”

A highlight for Liz was the scientific research she had conducted at a 2018  B2B summer internship held at Fairleigh Dickinson University. The research topic was sound and image processing using the Mathlab software and participants had the opportunity to present their research findings in a poster exhibit at the Annual LSAMP Research Conference held at Rutgers-New Brunswick last October “I was so nervous, said Liz, with all those people hanging on my words”  The other PCCC participants encouraged her. “That was really great,” said Liz.  In the end, her poster presentation won an award.

Because Liz works full-time while attending PCCC full-time, she does not have time for student life. “I would love to participate more and have more friends,” she said. “I feel that I missed out on the college experience.”

But Liz’ job as a home health aide has enriched her life experience. “When I take care of someone’s parents, I give 100 per cent of myself.  I think of them as my own parents,” said Liz.  She enjoys working with older people and values what they contribute to life. One of her clients who had been an engineer in WWII, showed Liz his collection of engineering tools from that time.  “I really appreciated seeing the tools and hearing stories about his work,” she said.

As graduation approaches, Liz says she feels both sad and happy. “I will miss being here at PCCC,” she said, “but after working so hard, to see this moment is a huge deal. I feel I accomplished something.”

Peace said the reality of leaving PCCC hasn’t sunk in it. “Maybe by Commencement, I’ll feel like I’m graduating,” she said.
Then PCCC, will have two Okoko alumni and two more to go.

Written and photographed by Linda Telesco