In Minneapolis, One Student from Kenya Found a Champion and a Dream
In October 2013, 17-year-old Shamsa Adow clutched her visa paperwork to her chest and boarded a flight from Nairobi, Kenya, to Minneapolis, to unite with the mother she hadn’t seen since she was a toddler.
Adow, a Muslim who is Somali by heritage, found a community at Minneapolis College Prep high school. She formed a fast bond with her English language teacher and homeroom advisor, Teresa Gloppen (Twin Cities ’10). In the all-female homeroom, Adow was thrilled by discussions of female empowerment. “When you’re raised in a society where people think of women in one type of way, even if you don’t agree, you feel trapped in that,” she says. But with Gloppen and her peers, she felt limitless.
Within a year, Adow had tested out of English language classes at her school (which has since closed). By her senior year, she took two AP English courses—composition and literature—also taught by Gloppen. “She was always on to the next challenge and asking what she needed to do to get there,” Gloppen says.
Today, Adow is studying agricultural engineering on a full scholarship at North Dakota State University, where she frequently finds herself the only Muslim or student of color in her classes. The pressure she feels not to make mistakes is enormous, she says. “I don’t want to do anything that will make me more different.”
She and Gloppen, who now teaches at Andersen United Community School, stay close through social media and occasional coffee meet-ups. When she graduates, Adow plans to return to Kenya to work in sustainable agriculture. She says, “I’ve come a long way not quitting.”
About the Author
Leah Fabel is a Teach For America alum (Chicago '01) and has been at One Day since 2011. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, who is also an education journalist, and their two sons.