Syracuse University Magazine

Idriss Njike


Rewarding Experiences

Ernie Davis Hall residence director Idriss Njike G'09 remembers seeing a first-year student crying on the telephone. He invited her into his office and found out she was having trouble making friends and had told her parents she wanted to leave Syracuse. Njike settled her down, asked her about her interests, and encouraged her to join a club, telling her it's a good way to meet like-minded people. "Next time I saw her, she'd been to a club meeting and was a different person," he says. "Get involved. I always say that to students because I've seen that once they are involved in something they enjoy, their college experience changes for the better. They can always find a connection because there are so many ways to get connected."

Ernie Davis Hall Tour

Njike revels in such moments. A recipient of the 2010 Inspiration Award of the Chancellor's Awards for Public Engagement and Scholarship, he enjoys new experiences and challenges and helping students find their way. That should come as no surprise when you consider Njike's own path. Interested in studying in the United States, he left the booming equatorial city of Douala in his native Cameroon for the frigid climes of the Midwestern town of Marshall, Minnesota, to attend Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU). It was culture shock to say the least, and he still laughs when he remembers his first encounter with hot cheese sauce and how disgusted he was that people drank chocolate milk for lunch—two American gustatory habits that would make French-influenced Cameroonians cringe. At SMSU, Njike earned a bachelor's degree in business management and marketing and worked as a resident advisor and public safety officer. With encouragement from his supervisor, he explored higher education residence programs and landed a position with SU's Office of Residence Life (ORL), where he has worked as an assistant or head residence director for the past four years. Last year, Njike was appointed to head Ernie Davis Hall during its transition from construction zone to 250-student residence hall. Along with the usual duties of guiding students, settling roommate disputes, and enforcing rules, he monitored the building's ongoing construction and kept hall residents apprised of the progress, including the finishing touches on the gym.  "It was definitely a challenge, but I loved every minute of it," he says. "I'll always be grateful for the students and their parents and their understanding. They were amazing." He also studied up on the legendary Ernie Davis '62, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, and did his part to ensure students knew Davis's story. "I wanted everyone to know who Ernie Davis was," says Njike, who was thrilled to meet Davis family members at the building's dedication last fall.

He especially enjoyed learning the Orange great was a mathematics major. A numbers man himself, Njike balanced his workload with part-time studies at the Whitman School of Management, earning a master's degree in finance. It's a field that comes naturally to him, he says, recalling how as a youngster he would lend his allowance to friends with interest. He has given financial literacy seminars to ORL colleagues and students, and on an office shelf, next to a wooden map of Africa, sit several piggy banks, which he likes to hand out at seminars as a reminder that saving takes patience. Njike plans to leave Syracuse soon to pursue a finance career; ideally, one day, he would like to combine his finance and higher education backgrounds. For him, it would be a way to continue helping students—sharing the natural gift he has for connecting with them. "I've had the time of my life here," he says. "Higher education is about mentorship, advising students. Having students come up and ask for help with a resume or a cover letter or with their French-that, to me, is the best reward."    —Jay Cox

Photo by Susan Kahn