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April 8, 2019
Left to Right, Maya Soetero-Ng, Director of the Matsunga Insitute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii, Century College Alum Tareq Sharaf-Addin, Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), 2017 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

When interviewed for a previous article, Century College graduate Mitchell LeGrand challenged the misconception that community colleges are a second-rate education, and no more than a “starter school” for students who plan to transfer to a four-year school.

That assessment wasn’t true in the eyes of LeGrand, and it certainly wasn’t true for Century College graduate Tareq Sharaf-Addin.

“Community colleges provide the same classes you can take at a university for less money,” said Sharaf-Addin. “Coming to Century College was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

In the article written on LeGrand, it was suggested that being a “starter school” is not such a bad thing. Sharaf-Addin also shows that this is a perception to embrace. Century College has proven to be the start of incredible journeys for its students and alumni.

From War to Opportunity

At Century College, Sharaf-Addin was the Director of I.T. in the Student Senate and President of the International Students Club. Through Century College, he was connected with Travelers Insurance, where he was recently offered a full-time position. After graduating from Century College, Sharaf-Addin transferred to Augsburg University, where he is set to graduate this spring.

This wasn’t Sharaf-Addin’s original plan. After attaining his student visa, he left Yemen at age 19 to attend the University of Minnesota, with his parents having agreed to pay his tuition and living expenses.

Upon completing his first semester, the war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia began. As the economy subsequently collapsed, his parents lost their government salaries and could no longer pay for his education.

Sharaf-Addin had hit a roadblock. But disappointment, as it often does, led to opportunity.

Finding a Better Path Century College

Determined to stay in Minnesota and get an American education, he researched other options. After discovering community colleges, he told his father to cancel his flight back home.  

Sharaf-Addin compiled a list of community colleges inside and outside of Minnesota. Century College was near the top, as diversity was the #1 consideration for his decision.

“When I came here and saw how diverse the student body was, I felt comfortable,” said Sharaf-Addin.

Though Sharaf-Addin inherited his father’s interest in I.T., when it came to his career, he was open to anything. He decided to major in Management Information Systems because of the relationships he had at Century College, particularly with John Rohleder and Leif Jordahl from the I.T. Department.

“John and Leif were great mentors. They were there to help when I needed them,” said Sharaf-Addin.

Two Roads Converge

Century College essentially led Sharaf-Addin down two different roads. Sharaf-Addin is taking both of them.

Sharaf-Addin received a number of scholarships during his time at Century College, including one from the Century College Foundation. The most significant scholarship was brought to his attention by Trumanue Lindsay in the Multicultural Center. Travelers Insurance offers a scholarship program for two community college students; in exchange, the company helped pay for Sharaf-Addin’s education at Century College and Augsburg University.

Upon finishing his two-year internship, Travelers offered Sharaf-Addin a full-time job starting on July 1st, allowing him to stay in the country and earn a comfortable living after graduating from Augsburg University. His time at Augsburg University also set him on his way to pursuing his greatest passion: advocating for human rights.

At Augsburg University, Sharaf-Addin was heavily involved in the Model U.N. Sharaf-Addin and his committee members worked to draft resolutions in regard to Tunisia and Colombia – he twice traveled to the actual United Nations in New York City to present those resolutions to help inform policy decisions.

Sharaf-Addin is most proud of his work with the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg. There, he managed social media and was a data analyst. He worked with a team to put together a conference, held annually, centered on a significant issue. Speakers include influential world leaders and other notable figures. As part of Sharaf-Addin’s job, he got in contact with potential speakers, including the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, to invite them to the conference.

Through this experience he met Maya Soetero-Ng, the Director of the Matsunga Insitute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii. Notably, she is the half-sister of former U.S. President Barack Obama. She has served as a mentor to Sharaf-Addin – they keep in close contact and maintain a strong relationship.

“Though I’m in corporate America now, I know I will continue to advocate for human rights,” said Sharaf-Addin.

Becoming His Best Self

When Sharaf-Addin sat down for an interview, it was the first time he had been to Century College in three years. We can all relate to the feeling of returning to a significant place in our lives years later. It was clear that Sharaf-Addin was flooded with memories.

“Being away from home where a war is going on, it was hard for me when I first came here,” said Sharaf-Addin. “In the two years I was here I learned how to move forward and live through the pain, to pick myself up and dust myself off.”

That growth came largely from time and experience. But Sharaf-Addin gives credit to the professors, staff, friends, and mentors he met at Century College.

“The people around me were really supportive. Whenever I had down times, they helped lift me up,” said Sharaf-Addin. “They helped me become the best version of myself.”