The Inspirational Journey of Comfort Ricketts '06
Students and faculty at Pacific University from 2004 to 2006 are unlikely to forget the influential presence of Comfort Febisola Ricketts ’06, a business and economics major, standout performer on Pacific’s debate team, and outspoken voice on issues of social injustice. Ricketts’s story is one of inspirational success that has led her back to her home country, Nigeria, where she is doing her part at the grassroots level to combat structural socioeconomic inequities.
For Comfort Ricketts, Jan. 27, 2002, was a fateful day. She was a student at Lagos State University when an ammunition storage facility in the nearby Lagos State Military Barracks exploded. Like many others, Ricketts tried to escape the smoke and flames by crossing a canal. As she attempted to clamber out on the other side, she remembers vividly the man next to her who made the first attempt to get across the canal. He sank with the very first step, and she has wondered since what happened to him. Official government figures record that more than 1,000 people died that day, though unofficial estimates more than double that total. Most of those who perished drowned in the canals that ringed the area, and from which Ricketts was so fortunate to escape.
The impact on Ricketts was profound. Her escape reawakened her determination to make the most of this second chance to pursue an advanced education in the United States, with the eventual goal of helping combat the extreme poverty that affects much of Nigeria and the African continent. She expressed this goal passionately in 2006, noting that “there are people who live under bridges, who give birth to their children there, who want jobs and homes but do not have them, and there are children who are gifted but cannot afford an already faulty educational system. These are the people I study for. They are my motivation.”
It is fair to say that every day now, Ricketts is delivering on those goals. Of her time at Pacific, where she achieved academic success, served as a Pacific Ambassador, and received awards for her performance on the speech and debate team, she credits her success to the “enabling environment” which allowed her to “thrive beyond limitation.” Pacific, noted Ricketts, “went beyond the ‘school’ experience – staff, faculty, students and members of the community opened their hearts and homes to me – I was always home.” It was “an amazing place to regroup, study, explore and succeed!”
After she graduated from Pacific, Ricketts worked briefly at the African Development Bank in Tunis; attained a PhD in Applied Economics from Mississippi State University; served as assistant professor of economics in the College of Business at New Mexico State University (with tenure and promotion to associate professor awarded in 2018); worked as director of Workforce Insight at Southern New Hampshire University; and then returned to Nigeria and established the Comfort Ricketts Foundation in 2020. The Foundation has the goal of “filling gaps where the local welfare systems are broken.” Under Rickett’s leadership, the foundation is developing the first publicly known food bank and soup kitchen in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria.
Stephen Prag was director of Pacific University's Office of International Programs from 2004-2022.
Photos, courtesy of Stephen Prag: Ricketts with Rosie-Lee Bryant, then-First Lady of Liberia, in 2005. Representing her foundation.