Yugoslavia to Texas: Why CST’s Bojana Ninkovic Petkovic ‘Will Always Choose the Beach’
Every story holds a unique blend of challenges and triumphs—but some are more inspiring than others. Administrative Assistant Bojana Ninkovic Petkovic’s tale begins amid the chaos of Yugoslavia’s political and economic crises in the late 20th century.
“My country split into six smaller nations in the ’90s,” she explained. Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo), Petkovic lived in a number of former Yugoslavian areas while the region was being redrawn. “I became a refugee, traversing Europe. I always wanted to come to America to finish high school and go to university, but those plans didn’t exist anymore.”
Coming to America
Despite the bleakness of her situation, she held onto hope that she could reach America. She reunited with her sister, who had relocated to Houston, and finally landed in Houston herself. “My childhood dream was fulfilled,” she said. “I spend most of my time exploring the food, the music, and art.”
Transitioning from Europe to the Texas landscape was a drastic shift, and a welcome one. “Warm weather, humidity, and a different kind of winter—everything changed,” Petkovic said.
Unlike most coastal Texans, she has no complaints about the environment. “I love Texas weather. The heat, the humidity, the absence of snow-shoveling. You don’t know winter like I know winter,” she said, adding, “Snow is only romantic in pictures. I will always choose the beach.”
Finding a Home at UHD
“Every time I passed UHD, I felt like Downtown Houston could be my place,” she recalled. “I was so happy coming to work here because I immediately felt like I belonged.” She started as an office assistant and steadily rose to her current position as Administrative Assistant for the Office of the Dean at the College of Sciences and Technology (CST).
“Administrative Assistants have a world of diverse duties,” Petkovic explained. Her role includes tasks ranging from travel vouchers and office management to event coordination. “My favorite thing is engaging with the students through event planning. You get to see the impact of your efforts right away. Events can be stressful, but the satisfaction of seeing students’ joy is unparalleled,” she said. Her enthusiasm and commitment earned her a nomination for a 2023 “Goes the Extra Mile” Staff Award.
Petkovic’s early struggles inform her advice to students: “You’re young and full of life,” she said. “You’re allowed to make mistakes. The only thing you should always keep in mind is to learn from it. From my experience, no matter how hard it is, things will get better.”
That optimism plus her interest in lifelong learning explain her successful transition from refugee to thriving professional in a new country. “I’m truly happy that I’m here at UHD,” she said. “The atmosphere is so welcoming. I love the college and the people I meet. You learn things all the time. It’s always a respectful exchange of ideas.”
Images courtesy of Bojana Ninkovic Petkovic
By Ashley Kilday, Contributing Writer, and Laura Wagner
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.