As the first of her family (of 30 kids) to attend school, Blanche-Nicole Kissambou Tchimambou has worked hard to never let an opportunity pass her by.
She grew up in the rainforest in the Congo of Africa, where her family struggled to have enough food on the table. During the Congolese Civil War, her family was forced to flee their home, and move from place to place, looking for safe shelter. Much of her family fled in different directions, never to reunite again.
“I lived in the war zone in Africa and I was like, in the middle of nowhere. I am a survivor,” she said. “But you know, I’m like I once was (that), now I’m looking in the future.”
Blanche-Nicole always knew she wanted to attend school and get an education. Though so much of her life was turned upside down, she pushed forward and graduated from high school at the age of 23. A few years later, she became the first person in her family to graduate from college.
When Blanche-Nicole came to the United States by herself in 2015, she had to start from scratch. After graduating with a degree in business administration and human resource management, she was accepted into a master’s program at the Carlson School of Management. Eager to put her skills to use, she began applying for jobs and looking for work.
However, her earlier years growing up in Africa led to difficult struggles with mental health. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be severe at times, but she’s determined to make sure it’s not what defines her.
“I just don’t want people to see me because I’m disabled,” Blanche-Nicole said. “What I can do, I do. I just try to be positive. And just believe that everything is possible.”
Through her search for work, she was introduced to the UnitedHealth Group Disability and Inclusion Internship program — a way for those of all abilities to get a foot in the door and learn corporate experience.
The internship helps provide competitively paid training, mentorship and development for those with disabilities across a number of roles throughout the enterprise, said Andrea Eselunas, director of disability and inclusion for UnitedHealth Group.
“We felt the need to sort of ensure we had an exclusive way to include this community of great talent,” Andrea said. “They are truly untapped.”
The cohort-style program takes place over the course of 12 to 15 weeks, and upon successful completion of the program, provides the opportunity to transition to part- or full-time employment.
“The fact that they have this program that helps everybody to get involved, they make it possible for people, regardless of their disability,” Blanche-Nicole said.
During her internship, she worked with Andrea, as well as Tonya Barber, director of global diversity equity inclusion at UnitedHealthcare, who helped her understand corporate processes and learn the business.
“She learned quickly,” Tonya said. “You know, we are a large organization so sometimes it’s hard to navigate if you’re interested in an internship or full-time position here.”
With Tonya’s help and the help of other mentorship through the program, Blanche-Nicole accepted a full-time position, following her internship. She now works as a bilingual broker services representative for UnitedHealthcare.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Blanche-Nicole said. “Because when I look at my background, I’m this one girl, like the Bush girl, as I call myself, coming from Africa, who did not know a lot about their country and have a lot of barriers … I just really like helping people and helping people makes me feel happy, I’m just so blessed to have this job.”
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