How Football and Education Transformed Ujay Green’s Life

Ujay Green had a challenging life when he was younger, but his transformation into a successful adult can be traced back to football. More importantly, it can be linked to what football gave him – people who cared about him and depended on him.

“I had a 0 GPA freshman year, but joining football turned it all around,” Green says of joining Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth, Minn. “It helped me to graduate, be a different person, and see life from a different perspective. It wasn’t all about hanging out with people, and I realized the people I was hanging out with weren’t positive people.”

In order to keep playing, Green kept his grades up.ujay_green_rctc

Better grades and a responsibility to the football team led him to Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC).  Green kept his academic momentum going and began earning great grades and a bevy of accolades.

He was on the dean’s list and made the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Green also took time to volunteer and joined the student senate.

“I studied hard,” says Green, who entered RCTC with around a 2.3 GPA. “I wasn’t the best athlete on the team but he (RCTC football interim head coach Derrick Hintz) was happy with my grades. It helped to have an adult figure there who really appreciated the hard work I was putting in. It was almost like with Jack (Negen), but at RCTC.

Negen was Green’s case manager when he was at Armstrong, and the person who help set Green on his successful path by suggesting he try playing football. Up until meeting him, Green had a tough journey, beginning with his mother sending him to America from the West African nation of Liberia when he was about 4 years old.

“If she had not made that sacrifice I would not have made it,” Green says of coming to America, heading to college, and having the life that he now does.

Growing up without his mother (who he saw for a second time when he graduated from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management this past spring) was difficult.

“I didn’t have my mom there to see every day,” he says. “I would go to school being really sad because I saw kids with their families and I didn’t have that growing up. I was outside a lot and hung out with the wrong crowd because I didn’t have a lot of guidance, or a father figure, growing up.”

RochesterFest_parade_June2014_128He says he felt unloved. And, while living with his aunt, he’d run away, eventually landing in foster care.

“I’d get in trouble at school and my grades weren’t the best,” Green says. “My auntie, she tried the best.”

But with his aunt, mother, and best friend by his side, Green was all smiles at graduation.

He now has a job at the Royal Bank of Canada as a technical analyst, and is looking forward to graduate school, possibly for social work.

“I just want to be involved in something that helps people,” Green explains. “I felt social work aligned well with my passion.”

RCTC will be remembered as a stepping stone to help Green get to this point.

“RCTC was the ideal place to continue to develop and grow in that direction,” Green says.Picture3 copy

Negen actually made sure Green made it to orientation at RCTC, meeting then TRIO director Michael Smith halfway from the Twin Cities so he could get there. And then Smith got Green involved in TRIO Student Support Services. This program helps to tutor students, and also helps with understanding different parts of the college experience.

“It really helped my grades evolve, too,” says Green. “I definitely wouldn’t have the grades I have if it weren’t for the TRIO program.

“If it wasn’t for RCTC, I wouldn’t have made it to the U of M (University of Minnesota),” says Green. “The resources, Phi Theta Kappa, connecting with (former RCTC) President Don Supalla – he wrote my recommendation letter to get into the Carlson School of Management, and I still meet with him once a year.

“It was all just incremental steps,” he continues. “RCTC gave me a chance. That’s why I am where I am today.”

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