The first verse of one chapter in the Quran commands, “Read in the name of your Lord Who created.”
Echoing that verse, one of several speakers at the Fifth Annual Somali Education Night on Friday told the audience that to be successful, you must “read, read, read.”
Abdihamid Geyre, a 2006 University graduate, was a member of that audience.
“Since Somalis are generally Muslims,” he explained, “the first verse in the Quran is held with favor – a way to remind Muslims they should seek education.”
He attended the event at the Somali Education Center with his friend Ahmed Aden, also a 2006 University graduate and former president of the University’s Somali Student Association.
The two said they came to see how much progress the event has made and to show their support for younger members of the local Somali community.
“I think (the education night) has grown over the years,” Aden said. “It has developed.”
Since 2002, directors and staff members at the Somali Education Center have sought to promote the value of education that is taught in the Quran.
Ahmed Osman, the center’s program director, described the community’s need for a place that can help Somali immigrants start their new lives here.
“There are more immigrants, and therefore they need more services,” he said.
Things as simple as kids needing help with homework become a challenge, Osman said, when parents can’t speak English, and there are cultural differences on top of that.
“Like homework for government classes,” he said. “They don’t know what elections are – they’ve never even had elections.”
Mahamoud Wardere, who founded the event and organizes it every year, said it has attracted more students, parents and educators each year.
The event’s small college fair was “bigger than ever” this year, he said, as it was the first year the center invited schools beyond local technical colleges.
“We definitely feel this is a population we’d like to tap into,” said Michelle Garay, a University first-year admissions counselor. “Whenever we’re invited to cultural events like this, we definitely want to come.”
Garay cited other cultural celebrations like Cinco de Mayo, when University admissions counselors will go to recruit students from diverse backgrounds.
M. Deloris Richardson was another admissions counselor there for the first time, from Macalester College.
“I thought this was really a critical thing we ought to be doing,” Richardson said. “We have to be here to be a bridge and provide assistance to the Somali community.”
Over the past five years, though, it is hard to tell exactly how much of an impact the center’s education night has had on college enrollment.
Analyst John Kellogg from the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting said data on race and ethnicity is not collected consistently. Some applications simply don’t ask for such information, and even on those that do, applicants sometimes choose not to answer.
But he did say the number of students who cited Somalia as their birth country on forms with the appropriate fields has grown steadily since fall semester 2001.
After seeing the dozens of parents and students who crowded into the center Friday, Wardere said he remained confident that the center’s efforts are producing results.
“Every year there are more people,” he said with a smile.
And the fact remains that at least 20 Somali high school students, like sisters Ambiyo and Hodo Ali, chose to spend their Friday night thinking about their futures rather than hanging out with friends.
“Someday I want to be a doctor or a dentist,” Hodo Ali said. “So I want to know about college.”
Aden Ali, who attended the first event in 2002, watched the families file in.
“This is a success story, looking at the people who attend,” he said. “That’s why I came, to see how it’s transformed. It’s amazing.”