February 11, 2015

America Reads tutor inspires future generation of college students

America Reads tutor Fathi Ahmed '17 with one of her mentees at Project for Pride in Living. (Photo courtesy of Project for Pride in Living.)

Pride in your school, allegiance to a sports team, and community affiliation are all common reasons to wear St. Kate's apparel. But for one student, her St. Kate's t-shirt is also a symbol of hope and possibility.

Going into her fourth semester as an America Reads tutor, Fathi Ahmed '17 intentionally wears her shirt to the community where she tutors young grade school children.

"Kids benefit by seeing us committed to helping them," she says. "And by wearing my St. Kate's shirt while I tutor them, it sends the message that like me, they too can go to college."

Growing up, Ahmed was not always confident that college was an option. One of nine children of Somali refugees, she was born in Kenya and moved to the U.S. at age 4.

"Not a lot of people in my family went to college — it just didn't seem like something I could easily achieve," she says.

When her sister Khadra — the first form her family — went to college, Ahmed's perspective started shifting. She was then introduced to the College Possible program while a student at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. Ahmed grew hopeful that college wasn't as unattainable as she believed.

The program offered mentorship and prepared Ahmed for college by helping her navigate the paperwork, requirements, and application.

"I had no idea how to get through the process," she says. "And when I felt, 'I can't do this, it's too hard,' the mentors at College Possible encouraged me. They said, 'Yes you can, we'll help you.'"

Paying it forward

Her first semester on campus, Ahmed searched for employment opportunities that would provide her with a meaningful way to "give back" to the community. She was too late to secure a paid position as an America Reads tutor, but decided to volunteer anyway. Her commitment led to a paid position next term.

"I love working with kids and fostering growth," she says. "I got to St. Kate's through the mentorship of older students. I want to do that for other students."

Ahmed is one of 34 St. Kate's students that work as America Reads tutors at five schools and community sites in the Twin Cities.

"Fathi is an energetic tutor who has done such a great job of connecting with and encouraging the kids with whom she works," says D'Ann Urbaniak Lesch, assistant director, Center for Community Work and Learning. "She's an amazing mentor who demonstrates that college is possible and they can achieve it, too."

A public health major, Ahmed sees her tutoring job as great experience for her future career. "Education and public health totally go hand in hand — especially with health equity and educating youth about nutrition and overall health."

Ahmed plans to continue working as an America Reads tutor through graduation.

More about America Reads

America Reads, a national literacy campaign initiated in 1997, mobilizes Americans to help all children learn to read well and independently.

Organized by The Center for Community Work and Learning, the America Reads program at St. Kate's employs students as tutors at Twin Cities schools and community organizations, where they work with youth on literacy goals. The Center supports tutors' leadership and skill development through ongoing trainings and reflection sessions.

By Sharon Rolenc