The Oromia Student Union (OSU) had a Pre-College workshop on November 8, 2010. OSU is a student organization at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Founded in 1980, OSU has been the anchor and face of Oromo cultural identity on and around campus. The Pre-College workshop is one of the many activities that OSU hosts annually. The workshop, intended to orient high school Oromo students into college, drew close to 100 students from around Minneapolis and Saint Paul Public Schools.
The students began flocking to the Coffman Memorial Union at about 9AM. I chaperoned a group of students from Minneapolis school. Upon arrival, I was so astonished by the sophistication and organization of the OSU board. From ushers, to check-in staff, a delicious breakfast, a well-organized agenda and brochures in colorful folders — everything was in place and orderly.
The event began with a speech by Bikila Shuna, the current President of OSU. After introducing the 2010/11 OSU board, Bikila stressed the need for such event and thanked all those who made the event possible. His speech was followed by a moving presentation by Patrick Troup, the Director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) at the University of Minnesota.
Relating his own journey to college and beyond, Patrick told the students,
…believe in yourself, take your education seriously, be proud of your heritage, hold onto your identity, stay connected to your roots, your identity is your power source, don’t let failure define you and do not give up on yourself because when you give up on yourself you give up on your community…in whatever you do, strive to be your best.
His speech was followed by a pointed pitch to prospective students by Jasmine Omorogbe, Admissions Counselor at the U of M.
The second part of the event consisted of a panel discussion, a presentation about Minnesota’s Future Doctors program and a group activity. The panelists were current U of M students. Five students responded to a series of questions from the audience ranging from identity on campus, admission, to scholarship opportunities and college life. Following an extended panel, Dame Idossa gave a very informative presentation about Minnesota’s Future Doctors program. According to their website, MN Future Doctors program “prepares college-age Minnesotans from underrepresented communities for admission to medical school.” In her presentation, Dame explained the work of MN Future Docs, how students will benefit from both summer and academic year components of the program and eligibility requirements to join.
The final segment of the workshop was a group activity. The students were divided up into smaller groups. Some graduates and current U of M students led the discussions on career options and college majors. I commend OSU for the great event. Indeed similar and many more events are necessary to make college accessible to students who are often first generation and new comers.
Among the returning graduates, I asked Hashim Adam, the immediate President of OSU for his thoughts. He is what he had to say;
Coming to America is distinct advantage for Oromo youth whose fate in their own home (Oromia) would have been unreasonable imprisonment, unemployment, torture or mental enslavement. As such, not taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to us in America is a huge failure. It is a failure not only for individuals but also for our communities. The youth need positive role models, mentors, and informers. Being informed is being empowered – that is essentially what the Oromia Student Union does. I believe bringing Oromo youth to a big institution like the U of M serves two goals.
1) It inspires the students to pursue higher education – they can see us and see that higher education is possible even if you are from Oromia or an ESL student.
2) They get the opportunity to network and explore various options – schools, majors and scholarships.
When OSU started a tutoring program at Lincoln International, a Minneapolis based charter high school, I came up with this short phrase – feed one mind today and that mind will eventually feed millions in years to come. I continue to believe by helping one Oromo student at a time, and if the trend continues, millions will be born to do the same – to be called upon in order to replicate the work.
Here are some suggestions on how to make the great event even more informative:
1) Inviting more school reps (admissions). A lot of high school students may not know the difference between 2years, 4years, private and public colleges. Inviting reps from all those institutions would give the students a broader pool to explore.
2) Making the group discussions grade appropriate. Most of the students that attended the workshop were 9 th through 12th graders. As such, they were at different levels in their journey to college. Twelve graders may need to focus on exploring and applying to colleges and scholarships. Juniors should be looking at ACT, exploring volunteer opportunities and career explorations. Study skills, information about the various college options, test taking strategies etc are more appropriate for sophomores and 9th graders. To accommodate the need of each grade level and also make the information more useful across the board, doing a grade specific workshops could be the best way to go about.
3) Scholarships. College is expensive and tuition has been rising in recent years. However, there is a wealth of resources out there for everyone to make college affordable. Scholarships are available for everyone even for things such as being left handed. The challenge is, not everyone knows where to look. Making a list of scholarship or even legitimate scholarship sites (there are many who are not) available for students could be most helpful.