College has always been a goal for Mahdi Ramadan and Sergey Russu. Ramadan has long dreamed of a career in neuroscience. Russu wants to become an electrical engineer.
Both of these children of new arrivals in this country have excelled in school and are among this year’s four winners of Pacific Northwest Regional Council of the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials (PNRC-NAHRO) college scholarships.
Ramadan received the $4,000 John Collins scholarship named in memory of a former Vancouver Housing Authority commissioner. It will provide him with $1,000 for each year at a four-year college. Russu received the two-year Resident Community College scholarship in the amount of $2,000 ($1,000 for each year).
The King County Housing Authority, which sponsored the applications of both young scholars, will contribute an additional $250 grant toward each of their educations.
“With hard work, intelligence and resolve, Mahdi and Sergey have overcome cultural and economic barriers, showing exceptional academic prowess that will allow them to realize their professional dreams,” said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority. “These young men are classic examples of how the children of immigrants are creating pathways to a better life. Their pursuit of higher education and the careers that will follow will help generate a stronger future economy,”
Ramadan, 18, lives with his family at Birch Creek, a 262-unit public housing complex owned and managed by the King County Housing Authority. Born in Lebanon, Ramadan and his mother moved to Kent when he was 2 years old. When Ramadan was 7, he was sent back to Lebanon with to live with relatives. His stay was terminated during the Hezbollah/Israel war in 2006, when he had to be evacuated back to the U.S. Ramadan was 11.
Transitioning back to life in the U.S. was challenging. To get his American feet back, Ramadan studied hard and read voraciously. Now a top-ranked high school student, Ramadan has earned a GPA of 3.84 and is studying college level neuroscience, a subject about which he is passionate. The multicultural Ramadan, who speaks English, Arabic and Spanish, is also passionate about global issues, particularly promoting peace in the Middle East. He has been a counselor at the Middle East Peace Camp since he entered high school.
Ramadan credits his younger sister, Ghida, who has cerebral palsy, and a family friend, Laura Snow, Ph. D., a speech/language pathologist who also teaches at the University of Washington, with sparking his interest in neuroscience.
“My whole life, I’ve seen the difficulties people face, including war and poverty, like in Lebanon, and the physical, like my sister” says Ramadan. “She is proof that if you try hard enough you can achieve your dreams. After years of grueling work, her brain re-wired itself. She can now speak and attends high school. I am so proud of her. Ghida has inspired me to learn more about how the brain is able to do this. I am grateful for the opportunity to go to college and continue my education to lead a more successful and happy life, but also to satisfy my desire to learn and use that knowledge to make the world a better place for everyone.”
After spending the summer as an intern in a neuroscience lab at UW, Ramadan will attend the UW this fall. He plans to study pre-medicine or neuroscience.
Russu, 18, lives with his family in Kent. They participate in KCHA’s Section 8 housing voucher program. Originally from Ukraine, Russu’s family immigrated to Washington when he was in the first grade. His very first challenge was to learn English.
A Running Start student who takes college level courses including calculus, technical writing and physics at Highline Community College where he plans to get an associate degree, Russu maintains a 3.97 GPA. He intends to transfer from there to a four-year college to get a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Also drawn to robotics, the enterprising senior is a member of the Kent-Meridian High School robotics club. If possible, Russu would like to merge these two areas of interest.
Russu’s drive stems in part from his family’s history. Despite being a promising high school student who won a number of regional competitions in physics, his mother was prevented from pursuing an advanced education in her native Ukiraine was only allowed to make a living as a seamstress. Russu sees it as his mission to pursue the education and opportunities she was denied.
“This scholarship is a blessing,” said Russu. “I will take as many classes as possible at Highline to get my degree and also to complete the prerequisites I need to study electrical engineering. I look forward to becoming an electrical engineer with the intention of going abroad and helping people in other countries. One day I will look back upon my life and say, ’I realized the value of education and I took advantage of it.’ ”
The PNRC-NAHRO created its scholarship program for residents of its members’ public and affordable housing programs in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington in 1993. Since then, 72 scholarships worth $231,000 have been awarded.