Breaking norms and achieving more

Story and photo

by ERIK MEDINA

From Feb. 10 through 13, the annual Community College Legislative Summit took place in Washington, D.C. 

This is a summit that Pima Community College has participated in for several years.

This year, Pima attended the summit with two student representatives. 

Fatuma Salat is a first-generation college student who plans to become a dentist. Matthew Gowan is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and plans to pursue a career with the Drug Enforcement Administration.   

Alongside Salat and Gowan were Chancellor Lee Lambert, Vice Chancellor Lisa Brosky  and several Governing Board members.

“Fatima Salat and Matthew Gowan were extraordinary advocates and ambassadors of Pima Community College,” Demion Clinco said. “Their perspectives and generosity in sharing personal stories provided our elected representatives in Washington with a deeper understanding of the impact education policy has on community colleges and students. Together they underscored how important support of community colleges is not just in Southern Arizona but across the county.” 

Fatuma Salat

 Fatuma Salat came to the United States at the age of 6 from Kenya. Her parents came to the States for their children to get an education. 

When she went to school in Africa, she would be in classes of 50 to 100 students sharing a few textbooks. 

Teachers were strict and rough with students, she said. Salat recalled when a student would answer a question wrong, they would be hit. 

“My parent wanted to give me the best life they could give,” Salat said. “They didn’t like growing up there, and they told me they didn’t want that life for me.” 

By coming to the United States, she viewed it as being a planted seed. She knew she could grow and do more with the opportunities she was given.      

Salat’s family are her biggest motivators. She has two older siblings who didn’t graduate from high school. 

“Fatuma is a study in perseverance and as one of the oldest of her 19 siblings, a role model for the value of education,” said governing board member Mark Hanna in a recent email.

As the first in her family to graduate high school, Salat shares her college experiences with her younger siblings and is a role model to them. They look up to her and seek guidance and advice to take the steps to further their educations.

“There is more opportunity here in the United States,” Salat said. “There is more materials here for learning. It’s a big expansion compared to the resources back in Africa.” 

Salat’s in her second year at Pima and plans to do the dental assistant program this fall. She also works at Desert Vista Campus Learning Center. While at Pima, she has gotten more involved with the school and helps out students in need. She’s the president of Student Life at Desert Vista Campus and that’s allowed her to hear the needs of students and give them a voice to help bring changes they want to Pima. 

Being a student, having a job and participating in extracurricular activities is tough work. At times can be a lot to handle, but Salat has something a lot of students desire and that’s time management. As soon as she gets out of class, she starts on her homework, she keeps her Saturdays and Sundays to herself to allow herself to study or finish any work that’s needed. This allows her to juggle many things at once. 

“I have this schedule where I have my specific times for specific thing,” she said.

Salat came to become a dental assistant. 

“Since middle school, I have been obsessed with oral hygiene, keeping my teeth clean, having a nice smile and also seeing other smiles really makes my day,” she said. 

In high school, she got into the Upward Bound program. They informed her that she could attend college to become a dentist or dental assistant, but once she arrived at Pima, Salat became involved with the Trio program. She met with advisers who made her realize she had the potential to achieve more. 

“I just don’t want to be a dental assistant,” Salat said. “I want to go for higher education. So, I decided to do dental hygiene.” 

Salat has now decided to go to dental school to become a periodontist, which is a specialty in dentistry that focuses on the structure and health of your teeth.  

This hard work has allowed Salat to become a student representative for Pima. This was all because Trio adviser Don Harp advocated for Salat. He believed that she was the perfect student because she was involved with Trio, was receiving FAFSA, and that she would be a good fit. 

Being a student representative, she was able to attend the Community College National Legislative Summit in the national capitol. Salat was nervous going on this trip at first, but when the time came, it turned out to be amazing. 

At the summit, Fatuma and other attendees talked about the importance of community college education. 

“I feel as if I took that for granted when I was coming to Pima,” she said. “I didn’t really know the behind the scenes work for keeping community college education going.” 

At the summit they talked about FAFSA and how individuals who were recently incarcerated were able to get FAFSA and that helped pay certificates programs or general education courses so that they could get a decent paying job at least. 

Salat said that because of FAFSA she’s able to attend Pima and get a certificate, which allowed her to get a job as a dental hygienist, which then allows her to save money and attend dental school. She isn’t allowed to take out loans because that is forbidden in her religion. FAFSA allows her to take these small steps to achieving her dreams.  

“It made me not feel bad because I thought, ‘I’m going to a community college so people will think she’s not that smart.’ It’s not that. It’s just that I can’t afford university tuition.”

In D.C., the student representatives were given the chance to speak with lawmakers. She was also able to see people who really supported community college education. While there, she met Sen. Krysten Sinema. 

Salat says she’s a very inspiring woman, and she was able to share her story with Sinema. Sinema told Salat that she also started at a community college and then took several steps to get where she is now.  

After Pima, Salat will transfer to the University of Arizona, to earn her bachelor’s degree in pre-dentistry. After that, there’s dental school.

“I will cherish the opportunity that I have been given from this college,” Salat said. “I will also cherish the amount of work being put into programs.” 

 

Her goals don’t end at dental school. She wants to start a non-profit organization to give scholarships to students, and she also wants to return back to Africa to build homes and help construct a better educational system.

“Growing up there was pretty tough for me, so I want to return and give back,” Salat said.

Salat is an advocate for post-high school education in the immigrant and refugee community. Coming from a culture where you don’t go to college, you get married, she speaks with individuals like her and that come from the same background and informs them of the opportunities they have going college. 

“I would tell them to make the choice to go to college because at college you are not going to be at home being a housewife. You can get an education and do great things.”

Salat with Sen. Krysten Sinema during Pima’s recent trip to Washington, D.C.

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