If you were to scan the leadership of Atkinson’s Student Groups, and you might think you were looking at the roster of a Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Family names like Alqusmul, Pham, and Sukaew collaborate with Bundy, Rosenthal and Turner to coordinate an array of interests ranging from accounting to marketing to sustainability.
Behind these groups stands the Atkinson Student Association (ASA), the body responsible for ensuring that the student organizations have the services and resources they need.
Why get involved?
“Back home [in Kosovo], everyone was the same nationality. I wasn’t as interested in getting involved,” explains ASA President Fatos Berisha MBA’15. “Since Willamette has so many international students, I feel like I belong to a larger group of people. All of us came from somewhere else and we all need a little help here.” Berisha came to Willamette on a scholarship from USAID. Before that, he’d never heard of Willamette, but he’s glad that he came; “Some of the best things in life are unplanned.”
Every Wednesday, Berisha meets with his fellow members of the ASA, including the PR Chair, Una Japunza MBA’15. Having served as President of her undergrad’s International Student Association, Japunza wanted to get involved at Willamette; “It’s a great way to experience the local culture and way of life. That’s why you see so many international students in Atkinson’s student groups; they don’t want to sit back, do their education, and return to their home countries. They want to be a part of this community and make a difference,” says the native of Croatia.
‘A nice balance to all the course work.’
With a full load of classes, you might wonder why these two would take on additional responsibility in the ASA. Berisha answers quickly and clearly; “I feel better when I’m engaged. I’d rather study less than 100% and spend 20% of my with the ASA; I feel like it rounds out my education.”
Japunza chimes in: “The more I have on my plate, the more productive and efficient I am. In this position I can grow professionally, but I can also give back. We began our term in February by organizing the Brownwater event for the graduating class. Now we’re doing more administrative stuff; ensuring other groups have what they need. They really want to take charge, coordinate, and host a lot of events like local hikes, culture nights, and movies. It’s exciting.”
Forever planning next steps.
After graduating, Japunza would like to stay in the Pacific Northwest; “I expect I’ll work for an international corporation for several years, then start my own business. Willamette’s entrepreneurship program has inspired me.”
Berisha’s plans differ in one significant way: “Because of my USAID scholarship, I have to return home for at least two years. I will probably try to rejoin my previous employer in a new role. Before coming to Willamette, I sold my equity in a side business I’d started with my friends. When I return, I would also like to rejoin that company and apply what I’ve learned at Willamette.”