The Power of a Scholarship
Sohail Alamkhel says the opportunity given to him is a responsibility
Despite decades between them, alumna June Sekera (B.A. ’71, Sociology) and Cal State East Bay junior Sohail Alamkhel still have something in common: Neither thought they’d ever go to college.
Sekera, who graduated with a degree in sociology and went on to obtain her MPA at Harvard, says if it hadn’t been for the construction of then-Cal State Hayward right in her hometown, a university degree would have been an unheard of prospect.
“My mother had an eighth-grade education and my father sixth-grade,” Sekera says. “We were poor and my parents never expected that I would go to college.”
Today, Sekera is not only founder of the Public Goods Institute, a nonprofit that provides education about public goods and the public economy, but she is also a fellow at Tufts University and the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London — opportunities she says she wouldn’t have achieved without the affordability and access of public higher education.
“When you come from a background like mine, you know nothing about how to negotiate the system and pursue a decent life,” Sekera says. “And that’s why I want to help these young people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to college.”
Alamkhel is one such student. A refugee from Afghanistan, he pushed his way through community college with jobs at Round Table Pizza and Starbucks, and was recently hired at a behavioral therapy center called Emerging Milestones, where he works with children with autism while pursuing his degree in psychology.
“Who would have ever thought that this kid from a warzone in Afghanistan could be in America with a scholarship?” Alamkhel says. “I feel it’s my responsibility as an immigrant to fulfill my potential. I have the chance to live in the most opportunity-filled place in the world, and I have to take advantage of that.”
Alamkhel is one of four students this quarter to begin receiving support from the Donald Sekera Scholarship in History, which Sekera named in honor of her brother — a great lover of history who never had the opportunity to attend college.
And in that vein, there’s just one catch to the funding. Each applicant for the scholarship must be enrolled in a history class, but not a declared history major — a stipulation Sekera believes makes for well-rounded graduates and will enhance their contributions to any field of study or career they pursue.
“I remember taking History of Western Culture,” she says. “It just opened my brain, my eyes, my understanding of where this country came from and where our communities come from. I think that’s what lured me into wanting to continue my education, and I hope that it has the same impact on these students.”
For his part, Alamkhel sees a direct connection between his studies and the two history courses he’ll be taking in the 2017-18 academic year.
“The link between psychology and history is people,” Alamkhel says. “I’m so grateful for the scholarship, and I see this as an opportunity to connect the behaviors of people to how they have influenced significant events in the world, for better or worse. By taking history courses, and through the work I do with children, I can learn more and more about ways to create a better world one behavior at a time.”