A program in D.C. helps immigrant high school students of East African heritage find the right college for them and fill out the best application, and it has helped more than 100 students get into some of the top schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale and MIT.
“They come from cultural enclaves that have certain assumptions about colleges, and those assumptions are very much misinformed,” said Matheos Mesfin, who started the Institute for East African Councils on Higher Education (IEA) three years ago.
He said the program fills a need in his community.
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“I myself emigrated from Ethiopia in 2007 and so I have seen the cultural disconnect between myself and my high school counsellors, and these students have that same issue,” he said.
He believed it was important to focus on East African students because they’re often the first in their families to go to college and don’t understand the admissions process.
“Our students are all bilingual — a lot of them speak three or four languages,” Mesfin said. “They don’t think that a college should know that they work 30 hours a week after school. They don’t know that interpreting legal documents for their extended family, they don’t think that’s important enough to be jotted down on a college application.”
IEA has had a 100 percent success rate.
“I’m going with a full ride to Dartmouth, so that’s a very big accomplishment for me but also my family as well,” said one student who came to this country from Ethiopia in 2005.
Parents say Mesfin has been a godsend.
“He looks at them individually,” one parent said. “He spends a lot of time and then talks to them and sees what colleges fit for them.”
Mesfin said for him it’s all about the students and paying it forward.
“We could have been born anywhere in the world,” he said. “I did not choose my mom, nor did anyone else here, and that reality should compel us to be as helpful as possible.”
But Mesfin said IEA constantly has to turn students away because they don’t have the space or funding to help everyone.
Reported by Leon Harris, produced by Michelle Montgomery and edited by Arun Raman.