A Somali refuge has received one of the most prestigious and highest undergraduate awards in the nation. Abdirisak Hussein, who graduated in May from San Diego Mesa College, is one of only 60 students in the entire nation to be named a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar for 2012. These scholarship recipients, who have recently graduated from two-year institutions in the U.S., can use their scholarship funds to transfer to four-year colleges and universities. Awards can total
up to $30,000 per year - up to $90,000 total - for each student.
"It was like a dream," said the East San Diego resident, who learned he received the scholarship at the college's scholarship gala event in April. "Making it to the final round and winning the scholarship from a pool of 786 students is quite something else that I have never expected."
The award enables Hussein to transfer to the four-year college of his choice, and then some. "It gives me the opportunity to study the institution of my choice and reach my goal without worrying any academic financial burdens," he said. It's a choice made more difficult since Hussein has been accepted to all the schools to which he applied: UCLA, UCSD, and UC Berkeley.
Hussein's childhood was fraught with many challenges. He grew up in war-torn Somalia and lived as a refugee for many years before moving to the U.S. at the age of 17 without any knowledge of English. In addition to his studies, Hussein supports his father and brother on his modest security guard salary.
"Going from an ESL learner to a biochemistry major with a 3.9 cumulative GPA and 102 completed units is an indicator of his stellar academic work, his drive to excel in college, and his resolve to become a medical doctor," said Professor Alison Primoza, who nominated him for the scholarship award.
"What is most remarkable," adds Professor Primoza, is that despite Abdi's financial hardships, he does not lose sight of his ultimate goal - to work for Doctors Without Borders."
At Mesa College, Hussein has been involved in the college's Bridges to the Baccalaureate Science Program and in numerous clubs including the Chemistry, Pre-Med, Honors and Phi Theta Kappa Club, where he is the current club treasurer. Hussein also regularly volunteers to tutor and mentor middle and high school students. "Giving back to my community is important to me," he adds. His lifelong goal is to attend medical school and then continue serving the community as a physician.
The San Diego Mesa College 2012 graduating class is comprised of 1,046 students who received 1,110 associate degrees and 321 certificates. More than 310 students participated in the San Diego Mesa College commencement exercises held Saturday, May 19 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion at USD.
Hussein's JKC scholarship is the fifth in six years for San Diego Mesa College. All students were nominated by Drs. Alison Primoza and Leticia Lopez, Spanish Professors and San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) Honors coordinators. Former undergraduate recipient Nasra Nimaga has also received JKC graduate school funding awards. Originally from Kenya, Nasra graduated with highest honors in 2008 from Mesa College, and again in 2010 from UCLA with a degree in architectural studies. She will attend Princeton's graduate program in architecture.
San Diego Mesa College was recently named as the fastest-growing community college in California and among the fastest-growing in the nation. Offering180 degree and certificate programs, it is the largest college in the SDCCD, which also includes City College, Miramar College and Continuing Education.