Welcome to HECUA’s Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This month we’re delighted to feature Hani Mohamed. Hani completed HECUA’s Making Media, Making Change program in 2016, and is just finishing her second HECUA semester in the Inequality in America program! Read on for Hani’s reflection on her HECUA experience.
Hani Mohamed first encountered HECUA in a lecture hall at the University of Minnesota. HECUA’s Making Media, Making Change program director Erin Walsh stopped by her classroom to give a brief presentation about the program’s interdisciplinary focus and internship possibilities. At the time Hani was juggling school and a full-time workload as the Executive Director of the Cedar-Riverside NRP. Majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in Social Justice, Hani saw in Erin’s presentation an opportunity to connect her studies with the work she was doing in the community. She immediately emailed Erin to follow up, requesting a one-to-one meeting.
“I really liked the presentation,” she said. “I went to the website and fell in love, so I set up a one-to-one with Erin.”
Over coffee with Erin, Hani learned about HECUA’s commitment to experiential education and classrooms that speak openly of social justice values and movements. She was determined to enroll in Making Media, Making Change, and as soon as she heard that there was another program option focusing on economic inequality in America, she resolved to fit both programs into her studies.
“When I found out during the meeting that they also offered an Inequality in America class, I thought: ‘So cool!’ Tackling inequality in America is what I DO. It’s my work and also my passion. Thinking about social justice and inequality – it’s who I am.”
Hani is someone who follows through on her plans. The following spring she was enrolled in Making Media, Making Change. Instead of commuting to the University of Minnesota campus, Hani drove to St. Paul Neighborhood Network, a community media hub where the class met to create films, develop production skills, and unpack media justice theories and strategies. Hani did all of this while leading the Cedar Riverside NRP through a strategic planning process, managing the organization’s early childhood and women’s wealth building programs, and working with the city to ensure access to NRP funding for housing construction.
Hani brought the same energy, leadership, and fearless approach to education to MMMC as she had to her work with the CRNRP. She’d started with the organization in 2008 as a community organizer, and been swiftly promoted – serving first as a program manager and then as Executive Director.
Remembering those years, Hani said “Working as an organizer was different from what I’d done before. However, I stuck with it. There was a lot of learning, a lot of interesting neighborhood politics. It was all about organizing the community.” Hani had a strong ally and co-learner in the organization’s then-Executive Director, who promoted her to program manager within two years. “While I was the program manager, I was being taught and mentored. I stepped up and built leadership skills, networks. Finally, the board, with the former ED’s suggestion, promoted me to Executive Director in 2013.”
Hani’s professional experience enriched the Making Media, Making Change classroom, but she says she learned a lot too. She was particularly appreciative of program directors DA Bullock and Erin Walsh’s approach to building a learning community. “They hear your opinion and foster discussion, and they encourage you to speak up,” she says. “They value each student, their knowledge and experience. We learnied together. Their passion encourages you, motivates you to read, because you feel like part of something. They really want students to be engaged. They asked, ‘What are your goals, how can you meet them?’ They constantly check in to see if you are meeting your goals.”
As the MMMC program drew to a close, Hani was beginning a new chapter in her life. A new mom, she decided to a few months away from school and work to care for her young daughters. This break lasted for 2 years after she completed the Making media, Making Change program, when she returned to a new HECUA classroom as a student in the Inequality in America program this spring. When we caught up with Hani she was just finishing her second month of the program.
She offered rave reviews. “To be honest, I can say that the program so far has exceeded my expectations! I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It is real. It is practical. It is what is really happening. The combination of the history and exposure to people who are really doing the work, incorporated with the readings…Wow! I love it.”
The Inequality in America program differs from Making Media, Making Change in one important respect – the optional internship in Making Media becomes a requirement in Inequality in America. Hani is interning this semester with the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, where her supervisor is HECUA alum Casey Hudek. Casey and Hani (together with another HECUA intern, Aidan) have been working on a variety of projects: organizing with the Minnesota Nurses Association, working on DED protection for Liberian immigrants, advocacy around school board races, and a partnership with Awood Center, a nonprofit building power within East African worker communities in the Twin Cities metro. Hani is happy with the way the semester’s turned out, and she’s become a strong HECUA booster.
“I’m recruiting people!” she says, laughing. “For me, the schools don’t teach what HECUA is teaching. I can say for my classmates that they are also so excited and appreciative. I wish that all the universities would offer programs like HECUA. It is needed in order for change to happen.”
When we asked Hani what advice she might have for future HECUA students, she says, “Be excited and happy! It’s completely different from traditional school. And be ready and prepared to really learn some authentic histories about racism, inequality, systemic oppression, economics, homelessness, poverty and so many important issues that we are never taught in school.”
Hani is set to graduate in 2019, and she told us that her ultimate goal post-graduation is to work for the UN. We’re so excited to follow her career!