Mercy (Sampson) Kern, ’91, came to campus in 1990 to study for a year, as Whitworth’s first exchange student from Cuttington University College, in Liberia. But when the time came for her to return to Africa, her home country was mired in civil war. Cuttington had closed, phone lines had been cut, and the country’s only airport was under siege.
Professor of Political Science John Yoder first met Kern in 1989, when he visited Liberia with a group of Whitworth students through an exchange at CUC. The exchange agreement allowed a CUC student to study at Whitworth for a year at no cost; Kern interviewed for the spot and Yoder selected her. “She struck me as a very capable and serious student, certainly a good choice for an exchange,” he said.
Kern arrived at Whitworth the year the college celebrated its centennial; Melvin Mason, the president of CUC, came along to participate in the festivities. “Our hope was to build a stronger relationship between Whitworth and CUC, perhaps [developing] faculty and staff exchanges as well as student exchanges,” Yoder said.
Kern studied biology at Whitworth and planned to become a doctor. When it became clear that she could not return home after fulfilling her Whitworth exchange, the Whitworth community leapt into action. Yoder worked with the campus to raise funds to cover her tuition costs, and he organized drives with local churches and faculty to provide for her needs; he even worked with the registrar’s office to transfer credits from CUC to reconstruct her transcript so she could graduate from Whitworth. Biology professor Lee Anne Chaney worked as Kern’s advisor and helped her through challenging science courses.
Kern lost several family members in the war and has not been back to Liberia since, though she plans to return soon. After graduating from Whitworth, she earned a master’s degree in nursing administration; she now works in Michigan as an assistant director of nursing at a rehabilitation center, and plans to pursue a doctorate in fall 2014. She has four children. When asked about her memories of Whitworth, she said, “I’m still grateful for the opportunities I encountered at Whitworth, being able to complete my undergraduate work with the assistance of some good people – especially Dr. and Mrs. Yoder.”