Enhancing diversity at UAA, one student at a time

by Mariah DeJesus-Remaklus  |   

The UAA Diversity Action Council awards the Student Diversity Award Scholarship, up to $1,000, every year to students who contribute to enhancing diversity at UAA. The scholarship highlights those who increase the visibility of diverse people, cultures and/or perspectives, create a welcoming environment and/or represent diverse student voices through advocacy and participation in UAA student organizations. Read on to learn more about three of this year’s awardees.

Osman Aden

Year: Senior

Major: Accounting

Osman Aden

Osman Aden was born in Somalia and grew up in Kenya. He arrived in the United States to live in Arizona for three years before moving to Alaska, where he wasn’t sure how to continue his education.

“I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t have a high school [diploma],” Aden said.

Then he met Leonidas Medal, student success coordinator at UAA’s Multicultural Center, during a chance encounter at Fred Meyer. After seeing Medal’s UAA name tag, Aden decided to ask him about the university, and the next thing he knew, Aden earned his GED and enrolled as an accounting major.

“Now I’m in the accounting field. I can’t imagine that the journey from Fred Meyer, it took me to the UAA,” he said.

Aden is currently advocating for UAA Muslim students, looking for a place on campus where they can perform their prayers. He has also worked as a language interpreter at the Alaska Institute for Justice, assisting the organization whenever it needs a Somali or Arabic interpreter. Similarly, he tutors students in Accounting Club, especially those who speak Somali.

For other students looking to enhance diversity in the community, Aden has one word of advice: networking.

“You’re not going to make money by getting a lot of degrees and not speaking to people,” he explained. “So the way you’re going to make money is just network and talk to people. Ask questions. Don’t feel shy.”

And his advice comes from his own experience – Aden credits networking for his chance to further his education.

“I can’t imagine I could be at UAA if I [didn’t] talk to Leo,” he said.

Cheryl Cox Williams

Year: Senior

Major: Psychology

Cheryl Cox Williams

From the U.S. Army to UAA, Cheryl Cox Williams has been working to educate and promote diversity in Anchorage’s community through a variety of roles and collaborations. She has been president of UAA’s Black Student Union and National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) student club, interned and now works at the Alaska Humanities Forum, served as a student representative on UAA’s Diversity Action Council and more.

A psychology major, Williams says she has always been a people person and involved in interacting with others.

“The Black Student Union was a natural outlet for me,” she said, “because of my interest in my people and wanting to know and learn more about them. And then once I did, I wanted to show and explain to others.”

One of the most recent parts of her work involves her position as president of NCBI, where workshops help students, faculty and staff learn about social inclusion and equity. The program is supported by and advises the chancellor and cabinet and has allowed Williams to travel to the Lower 48 for additional training, an opportunity she describes as a “university-sponsored professional development.”

“The opportunity to work with the university and community has really broadened my opinion of what diversity, inclusion and equity could look like because each of those entities, along with the students, have a different idea of what it looks like,” Williams said.

“The goal for me at the end of the day was not just to have a bunch of different people with different backgrounds in the room but to have their voices and opinions and concerns be respected and be part of the decision-making process,” she added.

Purevdulam “Onya” Enkhbat

Year: Senior

Major: Civil engineering

Onya Enkhbat

When Onya Enkhbat first came to Alaska, she didn’t know much English. While attending high school in Unalaska, she worked hard to learn the language and ended up graduating as valedictorian of her class. Now a civil engineering major at UAA, Enkhbat is participating in organizations and programs such as Society of Women Engineers club, Mongolian Society of Students and the African American, Hispanic, Asian, International and Native American students (AHAINA).

Drawing from past experiences, she worked as a mentor for AHAINA’s Seawolf Success Program. She decided to try it out because she believed the program was great for students who are minorities, starting out on their college journeys.

“When I first came, I didn’t know a lot of things, and I feel like if I had a mentor or someone who’s in college, I could’ve definitely avoided some mistakes,” she explained.

Enkhbat “vividly” remembers her orientation at UAA as a freshman, a time when she had been interested in engineering but wasn’t quite committed. The students were divided into groups based on their majors, and the results of the activity had generated some self-doubt.

“I went in with engineering, and there were, like, thirty or forty people, and I was the only girl,” she said. “So I was super intimidated. I was like, ‘Wow… I don’t know if this is right for me.’”

Fast-forward to Campus Kick-Off, and Enkhbat came across the Society of Women Engineers student club, which helps connect young women in the engineering field and recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion.

During the summer of 2019, she interned at local firm PND Engineers, where only about 12% of the engineering staff in their U.S. workforce, including interns, are women — this summer, she’s continuing that internship in hopes to facilitate female representation in STEM fields.

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