A small town in Iowa isn’t the first place to come to mind when most people hear the word “diversity,” but thanks to William Penn University’s commitment to a welcoming and diverse campus, the school nestled in the quaint Oskaloosa community is just that – something Organizational Leadership graduate student Akram Hassan didn’t expect before his 2016 move to campus.
“I’ve met people from all over the world when I came here and I never expected that,” he said. “The school overall is built on diversity. That’s what I noticed about it my whole time when I have been here, just the diversity and the hospitality of everyone.”
Hassan grew up in Cairo, Egypt, but moved to the United States in 2011. He attended and completed high school in Virginia, despite not knowing a word of English upon his arrival in the country.
After high school, Hassan thought that he would go directly into the work force. A college education felt like an unachievable dream, but that changed when WPU’s men’s soccer coach saw Hassan’s portfolio and thought that he could be a good fit for the school.
“That’s what actually brought me to Penn, it’s just a dream that pretty much came true,” Hassan said. “Just like anybody else, going to college was something huge. It was a dream for me. I never thought I would go to college, someone coming from a different country. I had never even spoken English ever in my life until I came to the states.”
Hassan and his older brother, who has played soccer professionally in Egypt and on the American team D.C. United, ended up coming to the school together to play.
Some of Hassan’s favorite moments with the school took place on the soccer pitch, his fondest memory that of walking onto the field with his brother for their senior day game.
Though soccer is what helped Hassan and the school find each other, his studies and aspiration to pursue his bachelor’s and ultimately master’s degrees have always been his reason for being here – and the experience of attending college in the U.S. is not one that Hassan takes for granted.
“I didn’t want to look at it as a credit that I’m getting, but I wanted to do it because I wanted to do it,” he said. “I would do it for myself, not for the grades.”
Hassan has appreciated many aspects of his time at Penn, but what he feels perhaps the most grateful for is the networking he was able to acheive.
“[Penn] gave me the chance to meet new people,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to build my network with so many people in the community, in the Des Moines area, Pella.”
While working as a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at the university, Hassan has also been working as an Experience Specialist at Unity point Health in Des Moines. He plans on moving to Waukee, Iowa, near Des Moines, in summer.
“I never thought that I would make the decision to stay in Iowa, actually, and work.”
Hassan’s past seven years on campus have rooted in him a connection to the community that welcomed him with open arms and became for him a home so far away from home.
“When I came to Penn, I never expected all the things that I experienced,” he said. “From the people, from the community, every staff, every faculty here, everyone is there to help you. Everyone is there to take you forward or wherever you want to be. This is something that touched my heart and I felt like it’s where I come from.”