As non-traditional students, Injifata Nuresu and Mark Mugambi have been the beneficiaries of Anoka-Hennepin’s robust public education offerings. Now they’re helping pay it forward by advocating on behalf of all students in Minnesota.
Nuresu and Mugambi are students at Anoka-Hennepin Technical High School, which is located on the campus of Anoka Technical College. The unique partnership between the schools allows older students like Nuresu, who came here from Zimbabwe when he was 17, and Mugambi, who came here from Kenya when he was 18, to take college classes while finishing high school.
Both students moved here in the past year, just six months shy of graduating from high school in their native countries. Since they’ve arrived, they’ve hit the ground running: While finishing high school, earning college credit, and becoming certified nursing assistants, Nuresu and Mugambi also joined the student senate at Anoka Technical College, the first technical school students to do so since the two schools joined campuses.
Nuresu serves as treasurer on the student senate, and Mugambi serves as director of internal affairs.
“They’ve accomplished so much in a very short time frame. It’s incredible,” said Thomas Lien, Anoka Tech student senate president.
Through the student senate, Nuresu and Mugambi had the opportunity to participate in several conferences with the Minnesota State College Student Association, a lobbying group for two-year and technical colleges, where they learned about current issues in education and received training on leadership and advocacy.
They’ve since used the skills they learned to meet with legislators at the State Capitol and advocate for students statewide. On Feb. 21, Nuresu and Mugambi were two of four students chosen to lobby Minnesota lawmakers in support of public higher education.
“What we’re doing is important, and it’s impactful,” Nuresu said.
Mugambi, who moved to the U.S. to be with his mother when she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, said he was impressed at the access Americans have to their elected officials.
“Where I’m from, Kenya, you have to book an appointment six or seven months prior to go to the capitol,” he said. “In America you can reach out to your leaders and tell them what’s wrong and what’s going on in your community and what you need changed. That was a great experience.”
In addition to advocating for Minnesota students, Nuresu wrote a winning essay that earned him the chance to go to Washington, D.C., where he met with Rep. Tom Emmer to lobby for college affordability on behalf of students nationwide.
He said one of the issues he talked to Emmer about was open educational resources, which would save students money by allowing college instructors to author textbooks for their courses that would be offered online, free of charge.
“For example, my math textbook was probably about $250 – just for one textbook,” he said. “If you look at the demographics of this college specifically, there’s a good chunk of people who work and go to school. On average, 22 percent of tuition goes just to textbooks. It’s a big issue.”
Emmer had an energetic response to that issue, he said.
“He has seven children. He said that pushed a button for him,” Nuresu said.
Technical high school Principal Nancy Chave said offering this kind of launch for students is exactly what the school was designed for.
“These young men just picked it up and ran with it, and we couldn’t be more proud,” she said.
They have come a long way since they first arrived when Nuresu was a bit softer spoken and Mugambi would carry around a notebook and pen to communicate because the language barrier was so difficult.
“They really showed the gumption, the motivation, the aptitude,” said Nick Hockert, faculty advisor for the student senate at the college. “Once they got to the conference and got a taste for what we’re about, they got the ‘aha’ moment.”
Both students will get their diplomas in June, then move on to Anoka-Ramsey Community College, where they said they plan to be involved with the student senate at that school and continue their advocacy.
“Even if I don’t make a big impact, the small little things I do might contribute to the big things,” Mugambi said. “So with every little thing I can do – join the student senate, represent students, get more people to join, get more people to care about the issues – that’s my main goal. I don’t have to move a big mountain.”
Patricia Halsey, work experience coordinator at Anoka-Hennepin Technical High School, said it’s remarkable what these two students have accomplished since arriving in the U.S.
“They are two smart, talented, ambitious and hard-working students, using their public education to contribute to the community,” she said. “They give us a reason to be optimistic about our country’s future.”