While growing up in Côte d’Ivoire, Sarran Deigna knew that her mother had been a good student with a special facility for mathematics. “If my Mum was so good at math, I should also be a good math student,” she told Global Atlanta during an interview in her office at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta in Midtown.
“That awareness about my Mum certainly inspired me, but I had natural aptitude in mathematics combined with a rigorous work ethic,” she added. “She certainly nourished me as I used to study with her at home.”
That realization was compounded by the support of her entire family throughout her school career including that of her step-father, Bakary Touré, who has taught and currently works in the registrar’s office at the International University of Grand-Bassam (IUGB) and whose father Saliou Touré was a former minister of higher education in the West African country. In 1984 Dr. Touré received the Medal of Francophonie for the coordination of the Interafrican Mathematics Collection of schoolbooks for French-speaking countries in Africa.
For many years, he also was the director of the Abidjan Mathematical Research Institute at the National University of Côte d’Ivoire and secretary-general of the Mathematical Union.
Ms. Deigna recalls that Dr. Touré’s name was on the cover of the math textbooks she received as a school girl. Today, however, she knows him as president of the IUGB, located some 20 miles to the southeast of Abidjan, the country’s capital.
And it was the IUGB that played a crucial role in her coming to Atlanta where she received from Georgia State University a bachelor of science degree in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science, summa cum laude, and then a master’s of science degree in actuarial science and a master’s of science in mathematical risk management, cum laude.
The IUGB, which was launched in 2007 with the support of Georgia State University, is an innovative institution created with the intention of mirroring American educational practices.
Ms. Deigna’s primary and secondary education was conducted in French in the francophone country and she completed the French baccalaureate, the exam marking the end of secondary studies, with a concentration in the sciences, especially math and physics.
She had gained enough English proficiency at IUGB, she said, to be able to transfer to Georgia State without much difficulty, except for deciphering upon her arrival some of the accents to which she was exposed.
As one of the IUGB’s earliest students, she earned an associate degree in mathematics, summa cum laude. While an undergraduate at Georgia State, she also excelled academically and was socially active being involved in alumni activities with other students in Atlanta from IUGB and was involved in research projects during which she said she acquired skills that gave her a solid foundation for her later studies in risk management and actuarial science.
As a graduate student she belonged to the student groups that were exposed to financial practices on Wall Street and in London. She also was active in the African Student Association as a dance coordinator and choreographer.
Her arrival in Atlanta marked the first time that she had been out of Côte d’Ivoire and she was amazed by the freezing temperatures she faced in January of 2012. Fortunately, one of her aunts had studied in Canada and had given her clothing before her departure that kept her warm enough. The weather soon turned to her liking as did her experience in the school dorm and her broader school life.
Once she had acquired her degrees she said that her department at Georgia State was approached by Alp Engin Can, the chief risk officer at the Federal Home Loan Bank, seeking a recent graduate to join his staff. Mr. Can had followed a similar course of study at Georgia State’s Robinson College of Business and was looking for someone who could conduct financial risk modeling and hired her. After working at the bank for only two and a half years, Ms. Deigna was promoted to the position of senior risk analyst.
Although she provides a sterling example of what a woman can accomplish in a STEM field and says there is much for her still to learn and accomplish at the bank, she doesn’t think that she will remain there or in the U.S. for the rest of her professional life.
“Yes I want to stay in the U.S. to get more experience,” she added. “But I want to bring back (to Côte d’Ivoire) whatever I learn here. I stay in touch with what is going on in the political and entrepreneurial scene and I’m very touched by the issues going on there,” she said. “I find myself having a lot of philosophical discourses about ethical issues and what needs to be done. I want to organize my thoughts about how I can make a difference, not by imposing my views but by better understanding what is going on and seeing how we can improve things.”
She considers some of the causes rooted in the violence that plagued the country while she was a student at IUGB aren’t fully resolved. But instead of staying away, she foresees a time when she will want to return home and help solve them.