West Windsor, N.J. – Listen to Mercer County Community College (MCCC) alumna Boyana Georgieva '16 (A.S., Criminal Justice) speak, and you’d assume she’s been studying English her entire life. Her words are flavored by a slight accent, and her excited and confident voice would suggest she has spent nights pouring over ESL textbooks and attending classes to master the language.
In reality, Georgieva, 37, hasn’t so much as sat in on an ESL class. Yet, in the nearly 20 years she’s lived in in the US, she’s not only become fluent in English, but earned multiple degrees and carved out a career in public service in the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce (NJCC).
Seventeen years ago, Georgieva emigrated from Bulgaria to the US. Living with her mother in Florida, she enrolled in Eckerd College, thinking that post-secondary education was her next, logical step.
“It was awful,” Georgieva said, reflecting on her time at Eckerd. “I barely lasted a semester. I couldn’t speak English, which made for a huge barrier to getting an education.”
Over the next decade, Georgieva survived. She left Florida for Monmouth County, where she married, and had two sons, Alex and Marty.
“My days were spent as a housewife and a mom,” Georgieva recalled. In the evenings, she worked as a waitress, but her days were devoted to living a simple and comfortable family life.
“That all changed when I got divorced,” Georgieva said. “No one prepares you for those major life changes. Along with the shock of becoming a single mom, I had to figure out how to handle my new found independence.”
That’s when Georgieva turned to Mercer. In 2013, she enrolled at MCCC, her eyes set on the Criminal Justice program. At 32 years old, and with a four and seven-year-old, Georgieva pushed herself to spark a career change that would benefit her and her family.
“Waitressing was a great experience, and was a big reason I was able to learn English to a functional level,” Georgieva said. “But I’d get embarrassed serving my peers or friends’ parents. I knew I could be more than a waitress.”
Working with professors Elizabeth Bondurant and Cavit Cooley in the Criminal Justice program, Georgieva realized that the typical path in law enforcement wasn’t in the cards. Still, she was driven to become a public servant, motivated by problems with immigration and mass incarceration.
“Professor Bondurant was incredibly helpful during my time at Mercer,” Georgieva said. “She had an open door, and was always encouraging me to talk about anything.”
After graduating with an A.S. in Criminal Justice in 2016, Georgieva transferred to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) to study International Relations with a Specialization in Diplomacy, the Middle East, and Arabic. Though Mercer’s fluid academic schedule and wealth of online courses benefitted her life as a single mother, TCNJ’s more traditional, nine-to-five campus made planning to finish her degree more difficult.
Added to those struggles was the overseas requirement. In TCNJ’s International Relations program, students are expected to spend a semester studying abroad. But rather than bemoan the difficulties, Georgieva returned to her roots, bringing her sons with her back to spend a semester in Bulgaria.
“I earned two scholarships – the Benjamin A. Gilman International and the Mary Roebling scholarships – packed up my kids and went into the study abroad term, full steam,” she said, noting that her research focused on refugees coming from the Middle East into Europe.
As much as she used her education as a platform for her own independence, Georgieva’s sons were also the beneficiaries of her passion for education. Now, nine and 12, Georgieva’s boys are familiar with the sight of their mom studying.
“I think my kids got a lot out of it, too,” she said. “They gained an appreciation for everything we have in America, and learned that getting an education isn’t impossible, no matter what path they take.”
After graduating from TCNJ with honors – she walked the graduation stage with her sons – Georgieva returned to TCNJ as a graduate student, this time, in the Masters of Business Administration program.
Concurrently, she works in the NJCC, serving in a position which grew out of an internship she secured as an undergraduate.
As a Payne Scholar with the NJCC, Georgieva got a first-hand experience in government. “I was reading a lot of bills, making visits to the statehouse and learning a lot about legislation,” she said.
So, when a job opened up, Georgieva jumped at the chance to go full-time.
“This wasn’t a ‘good things come to those who wait’ situation,” Georgieva said. “No one came knocking on my door with the job opportunity. I went and got it.”
As a relationship manager, Georgieva is responsible for fostering business to business communications that help to expand job and partnership opportunities throughout the state. Her regular duties include leading networking events and advocating for strong and transparent government-business relationships.
“It’s almost like we’re helping businesses through the courting process,” Georgieva said, adding that she envisions a dating app for businesses. “We are bringing different groups together to improve social and business capital in New Jersey.”
Though she’s just started her MBA, Georgieva doesn’t foresee her education ending there: law school is also on the horizon, further representative of her lifelong passion for learning.
“I’ve come to realize that regardless of what you learn, the fact that you are learning helps make you a more wholesome person,” Georgieva said.
“Mercer was the start of that change in me. I could have opened many different doors, but I chose Mercer, and I’m thankful for that.”