A man smiling at the camera with his arms in front of him and fists against each other
Daniel Osei. (Allen Jones, University Marketing)

‘Keep moving forward’

Computer engineering student Daniel Osei found ways to push ahead when the pandemic and periods of grief threatened his academic career.

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About How I Turned It Around: In this series, students who’ve struggled academically and otherwise share insights, resources and stories of how they got back on track.

Rock bottom was a long time coming for senior Daniel “King Fufu” Osei. The descent started almost as soon as he entered the VCU College of Engineering.

“I was always so smart in high school, so I never really had to study much,” he said. “I was really good at memorizing. … College was different, so adjusting to it for me was really hard.”

For one thing, Osei started the computer engineering program three semesters behind in math. He had to take classes every summer to catch up. 

For another thing, his passion for photography — Osei is an internationally published portrait photographer — took focus away from his studies, as did the remote learning brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Being home made it actually a lot harder to be able to focus on my studying capacity,” he said. Osei has a large family and the daily interactions with them started to wear on his time.

But the biggest blow was losing two close friends. The first one was during COVID, the second one was during his junior year after students returned to campus. Navigating his grief left him feeling disconnected from everything.

“I was just like, ‘What’s the point? What am I doing all of this for?’ I really felt defeated, like school’s really hard, everything’s crumbling. It really changed my view on my life and just the world in general,” he said. “This mindset really became a problem because it led to all of these residual behaviors that just held me back. … It’s like I was a train that just got pushed off the tracks and I was devastated.”

A man smiling at the camera with his fists pressed together
Osei was able to use resources offered by the Campus Learning Center to get back on the path to achieving his academic and life goals. (Allen Jones, University Marketing)

His academic career reached an all-time low.

“I wanted somebody to blame and I wanted it to be somebody else’s fault,” he said. “But it’s like I just had to face the truth.”

Osei took inspiration from the 2006 film “Rocky Balboa.” “It ain’t about how hard ya hit,” Rocky says. “It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Realizing he needed to change and needed help to do so, Osei reached out to his academic adviser, who helped him realize it’s not about the resources, it’s about how you use them.

Then he learned about the Campus Learning Center and its Academic Coaching program, and it gave him new hope. 

His academic coach, Sara Rafuse, helped him figure out how he was procrastinating, how to navigate his negative emotions and how to be mindful of his life goals — not just his academic goals.

Also through the CLC, Osei signed up for Supplemental Instruction sessions, a peer-assisted study session designed to help students with difficult courses.

“This experience really gave me what I came to VCU for,” he said, “which was not to just learn about school but to learn about life. It really showed me how life goes. And especially that, despite the low points that you may hit, life goes on. The world is going to keep moving forward.

“We all go to different levels of struggle. Just because people are going through worse, it doesn’t mean that your feelings aren’t valid. And school isn’t the end-all, be-all of life, and that’s OK.”