Clark alumna secures scholarships for students from Africa

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Six international students get tuition, housing funding to help during pandemic
Clark College Foundation awards financial assistance to Clark students

Aemri Marks ’17 was enrolled at Washington State University Vancouver and serving as co-president of the Black Student Union when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A lot of that group happened to be international students from African countries.

Marks noticed that international students were excluded from early stimulus funding. She heard stories about families overseas juggling financial fallout and rising health risks.

“I knew lots of students, particularly international students, who were struggling,” Marks said. “And I thought, ‘there’s something the NAACP can do here.’”

NAACP Vancouver branchAt the time, Marks was working for the local chapter of NAACP. She teamed up with her co-president of the Black Student Union, Mandipa Masike of Zimbabwe, and her coworkers at NAACP. They secured a $50,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington for international students from African countries.

Some of that money went to six Clark College students from five countries in Africa. The money can be used on any educational expense, from tuition payments to housing costs.

Masike and Marks helped spread the word on WSUV’s campus and funding was quickly distributed to students there. But African students at any college in the Clark County area were eligible. And reaching students at Clark, who weren’t already involved in the student group with Marks and Masike, took a bit more work.

Foundation helps award

In December 2021, the women reached out to Clark College and Clark College Foundation for help.

Aemri Marks ’17 helped secure scholarships for international students of color.

Aemri Marks ’17 helped secure scholarships for Clark College students and others in the region. Photo by Aemri Marks ’17

When Jody Shulnak, associate director of international programs at Clark, first received an email about the program, she thought it sounded too good to be true.

Marks chuckled when she heard of this response. She and Masike were careful in crafting all correspondence related to this grant.

“We knew it could almost sound like a scam,” Marks said. “‘Hey! If you’re a Black college student, fill out this form and you could get up to $3,000!’”

But this money was real. They partnered with Clark College Foundation, which already awards more than $1 million in scholarships, special awards and financial support to about 600 students each year.

“We have an emergency grant process and a scholarship application process in place, so we can turn around and award money pretty quickly,” said Shirley Schwartz, director of scholarships for the foundation.

Six students get scholarships

By the first week of the quarter, in January 2022, six international students from African countries had been identified at Clark: Afnan Ajina of Egypt, Taha Boukadida of Tunisia, Ndeye Cisse of Senegal, Ajibola Dawodu of Nigeria, Gaoussou Thiam of Senegal and Urji Weyessa of Ethiopia.

Clark currently has 45 international students who are studying on F1 visas. The F1 visa program allows full-time students to live in the U.S. while they receive their education [see update below]. All six Clark students who were eligible for this grant have received payments, according to Shulnak.

“The entire college community benefits from having these students here,” said Shulnak. “It enriches the learning environments, opens doors for all sorts of conversations that students and faculty might not otherwise have had. It fosters a global perspective.”

But there’s a toll on international students who are isolated from their friends and family. International students pay three times as much tuition as local students, Shulnak added.

Ndeye Cisse of Senegal is studying chemical engineering and math education at Clark.

Ndeye Cisse, of Senegal, is studying chemical engineering and math education. She received one of the scholarships for African students. Photo by Clark College

Eligible Clark students received one payment in the winter quarter and will receive another payment in the spring.

One of those students, Cisse, is studying chemical engineering and math education at Clark. It’s her second round of studying at the college. In 2020, she studied general education and chemical engineering and served as the student government president—known as the Associated Students of Clark College. She had never received a scholarship before this one.

“It’s a great thing,” she said, “because tuition is very expensive.”

After graduating from Clark, Cisse plans to transfer to the University of Texas. She wants to eventually work in petroleum engineering.

Marks said it feels good to give back to Clark, where she launched her college education in 2016. She feels proud to have identified a need and done something to help people across the globe. The fact that her efforts are helping Clark students makes the experience even more satisfying.

Update to story on May 6, 2022:  After one is admitted into the institution of their choice, they can apply for a visa 120 days before they are scheduled to start a program. Applying earlier is not an option. Applying later might cause a delay due to processing time.

Story by Lily Raff McCaulou

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