Mulubrhan’s Story - Residents on the Rise
(The Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing awards grants and other resources to impact the life experiences of children and adults, both at home and in the classroom. Through the Jerry Grier Educational Scholarship program, OCCH demonstrates how tuition and performance-based scholarships are being used to support residents of affordable housing in educational achievement. This is the story of Mulubrhan Woldemariam, a resident of Pheasant Run in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. )
Mulubrhan, age 35, wants his children to understand and appreciate his journey to success. “It’s not because of you, but the opportunities created for you. And someone else didn’t get those same opportunities.”
Born in rural Ethiopia in 1981, Mulubrhan had no access to formal education until the age of 10. As the Eritrean - Ethiopian Civil War and related conflicts simmered on and off for more than a decade in his home land, primary schools were non-existent—the education system abandoned and hollowed out by ongoing strife and destruction. Accounts of the civil war estimate total casualties as high as 100,000 deaths, and an additional 80,000 civilians uprooted, either fleeing war torn areas as refugees or expelled by the Ethiopian government under the Mengistu dictatorship. By 1992, almost four out of every five children in Ethiopia were out of school having never started or completely dropped out.
Reflecting on his recent graduation from The Ohio State University with a degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Mulubrhan recounts his wonderment and love for his father, whom he credits with teaching him to read and write during his early and most fundamental years. “I was as young as 6 or 7 and I can remember him telling me ‘I want you to be someone.’ Mulubrhan’s father, a village farmer who practiced non-traditional medicine, also taught himself to read and write.
Despite his beginnings in one of the most educationally disadvantaged countries in the world, Mulubrhan would still go on to achieve remarkable academic success, the intellectual inheritance passed on by his father propelling him forward. His older sister left home at age 10 to pursue education in the capital city of Addis Ababa, later creating a pathway for Mulubrhan to join her. “[Once I arrived in the city] – it didn’t take me long to reach an eighth grade level,” Mulubrhan recalls on his matriculation through primary education.
Before relocating to the United States in 2009, Woldemariam worked for an affiliate (NGO) of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), assisting men, women and children living in exile. “I saw the tent standing in the strong winds,” he described, unfolding the story of his involvement in an effort to establish permanent schools for children and support other post-conflict recovery and reconstruction. “I told my boss if we can find money to purchase the material, I promised her that I [could] organize the community [to provide free labor] to build the school.” After forming support for the initiative among a consortium of NGOs, Woldemariam raised a multi-year budget to build and furnish a school in Shimelba.
Upon arriving in the U.S, Mulubrhan, now with a wife, began an aggressive pursuit of his own higher education. “Education is a privilege in Ethiopia,” but an opportunity that is equally “tricky” to obtain here in the United States, according to Mulubrhan. “We couldn’t go at the same time,” he explained. So, at the time, Mulubrhan worked at a local hospital to support his wife who was pursuing a degree in Physical Therapy at Hocking College and two small children who were born in the United States. It was in this place where he started striving toward his dream of a career in the medical field.
Patching together a stream of income from full and part time jobs – including a stint as an Uber driver, and tuition assistance through a STEM scholarship from the Battelle Foundation, Mulubrhan managed to see his wife through school while earning 70 credit hours from Columbus State Community College and caring for his children full-time during his wife’s medical residency.
“Once my wife graduated and started working, [it was my turn],” he related. After applying to the highly competitive Sonography program at OSU with some reluctance, Mulubrhan received news that he was not accepted. “The email wasn’t good,” Mulubrhan detailed, “my first reaction was that this was a barrier.” Instead of becoming discouraged, he replied to the email, insisting on a meeting with the Department Chair. “I brought […] my personal life experience to them,” he shared, “and [they] understood my challenge.” After applying a second time, Mulubrhan was accepted.
When asked what was the most inspiring thing about his experience at OSU, Mulubrhan spoke of the support of Dr. Evans, Department Chair and Division Director for Radiologic Sciences and Therapy. “He was supportive of me,” Mulubrhan described adding, “he helped me on the weekends – opened the lab for me. I had drive but, I was lucky. I didn’t get here by myself, others wanted something brighter for me and organizations like [OCCH], lessened my burden.”
As the only student of color in a class of 12 students, Dr. Evans approached Mulubrhan September 2015 to join a faculty advisory group to identify strategies for attracting more diverse talent. “That’s when we started [looking] at the criteria. “[There are] students not applying who can meet the criteria and kids that apply with a 3.0 [grade point average] who got there despite their challenges,” he advocated, “why not take an average kid and support them – grow them.” As a result of Mulubrhan’s contributions to the advisory group, the program has modified its criteria for admission, including its written exam which now incorporates questions that ask the applicant to reflect on their attitudes and life experiences in addition to their technical knowledge and skill.
“In my community,” he shared, “a lot of youth didn’t have the appropriate model. Like me, they have capacity but need guidance. For me to reach here, a lot of people contributed, a lot of people trusted in me.” When graduation day finally approached, it was more a celebration of gratitude, Mulubrhan expressed. “It was a good moment for me to thank them [family and friends] and appreciate them for helping me graduate magna cum laude.” Present were his wife, three children, including a daughter born on the day he was accepted to OSU, sister, and relatives from both sides of his family. “They [the kids] got to wear my hat and take a picture. It was kind of like a promise to me that they will go to college.”