DSF Scholar Steps Up as a Leader on Campus and Beyond

DSF Scholar Hassan Mustefa says his family holds one word at the core of their beliefs: tesfa, which means “hope” in the Ethiopian Tigrinya language. Working as agriculturalists in war-torn Ethiopia, Hassan’s parents abandoned their livelihood in the ’80s to forge a better life in the United States, where Hassan was later born.

As a teenager, Hassan had the opportunity to visit Ethiopia with his family. He realized that despite the difficult conditions his parents had lived through, tesfa served as a survival tool in the communities of their homeland. Through this experience, Hassan’s parents taught him that believing in luck was not enough, but tesfa—hope—would bring him comfort through the hardships he would face in his pursuit of education.

By senior year at East High School in 2016, Hassan was on track to join the military. After talking to recruiters and completing the requirements and tests, he was ready to enlist, and to gain leadership and career experience.

In the spring, Hassan was notified that he was ineligible to serve in the military due to a surgery on his foot. As his postsecondary plans foiled, his next step was unclear, and he worried that it was too late in the year to forge an alternative path for himself. More than ever, Hassan understood the value of tesfa in overcoming challenges.

Hassan’s older sisters suggested that he visit the DSF Future Center at East High School. There, Mr. Na, DSF College Advisor, could help him create a new plan for his future, beginning with college. Luckily, Hassan had already completed his Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) earlier in the year as a backup plan, but college enrollment felt far away, as many more boxes had to be checked.

With Mr. Na’s help, he submitted his application to the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver). Though he applied later than most other students, Hassan received his acceptance letter and quickly began to tackle scholarship applications to fund his education.

“Mr. Na pulled me out of class one day and told me to go to the Future Center and apply for the DSF Scholarship right away, so I did,” Hassan says.

Though the application only took 30 minutes to complete, Hassan says the DSF Scholarship helped shape the next few years of his life by helping to make college possible for him.

In his first week on campus at CU Denver, Hassan met who would eventually become his current supervisor, Omar Montgomery. Now, as a student assistant in the CU Denver Center for Identity and Inclusion (CII), Hassan helps Omar with various projects and tasks. In return, Omar has helped open many doors for Hassan.

Hassan mentioned to Omar that he was looking for an internship, and Omar knew of an opportunity through United States Senator Michael Bennet’s office. Hassan applied and interviewed for the role, and started work right away.

“I realized this opportunity—like college—would be what I made of it. I was able to go to events with Michael Bennet, representing the office. That opportunity led me to an internship in the office of State Representative James Coleman,” says Hassan.

Now on track to graduate in 2020 with his bachelor’s degree in Business Management, Hassan has made the most of his college experience by stepping up as a leader. During his time on campus, Hassan has taken on many leadership roles, from working in a summer bridge program through CII, to serving as vice president of his fraternity, Nu Alpha Kappa Inc., to serving as president of Black Student Alliance.

Through his leadership roles, Hassan has been able to organize events, establish networking groups, and engage in public speaking. These experiences have helped shape his aspiration to work in politics in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know, and what they know about you,” says Hassan. “Networking has helped me improve my communication skills dramatically, and made me step out of my comfort zone. Now, I am prepared for things I never saw myself doing before.”

Hassan says college has helped him develop three key values which will guide his work in politics as a leader: Reliability, positivity, and open-mindedness.

“Reliability is important,” says Hassan. “Whenever I’m given a task, I will always get it done, or communicate that I need help finding a different way to get it accomplished. Positivity is key in choosing how you react in any given situation. If you react with negativity, all communication goes downhill.

“Lastly,” he adds, “I have learned to be open minded, which means always being willing to hear what others have to say. People have their own views—it’s important to understand the whole narrative.”

Reflecting back on his visit to the DSF Future Center as a senior in high school, Hassan says the DSF Scholarship has played a key role in making college possible for him, and the support of DSF through college has proved to be pivotal on his path to success.

“As a DSF Scholar, I have a place to go on campus where I can ask questions. DSF provides so many resources on campus—from de-stress events during finals week, to career and FAFSA workshops. My DSF Campus Advisor checks in with me, and it’s reassuring to have someone watching over.”

Hassan says that his experience as a DSF Scholar has helped solidify his commitment to promoting diversity in all that he does. As a future politician, Hassan says his goal is to pass on this element of his culture to others, bring a sense of purpose and a feeling of tesfa.

Read more stories of DSF Scholar leaders on our blog by clicking here.