“I was in class when the market collapsed.” – Kenza’s story

Welcome to our 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 lohmans@hecua.org. We found HECUA alumna Kenza Hadj-Moussa working away just two floors away from the HECUA offices, as Communications and Development Director at the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. Kenza is a Guilford College graduate, with an Economics major and American History minor, and completed HECUA’s Inequality in America program in 2008.

 When Inequality in America alumna Kenza Hadj-Moussa graduated from St. Paul’s Central High School in 2005, she chose to pursue her undergraduate degree at Guilford College, a small Quaker school in Greensboro, North Carolina. Kenza majored in Economics at Guilford, with a minor in American History. Although her courses were taught with a social justice lens, most of the work happened in the classroom. During her junior year Kenza made the decision to travel off-campus for a semester in Washington DC, in search of a more immersive, hands-on experience. She says of the time preceding that semester, “At that point I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up.” Her months in Washington were “the first time I thought about life after college and what I could do.” The program piqued her interest in issues of housing and homelessness, and as she developed her future plans, Kenza searched for a second off-campus study semester.

She happened upon HECUA’s Inequality in America program through a google search. “I was looking specifically for a study away program that had an internship component, and I was attracted to the academic content that focused on poverty, social change and inequality.” As an additional bonus, the program was based in her hometown of St. Paul. She arrived in the Twin Cities in the fall of 2008. The housing market imploded soon afterwards, and the class took place as the nation (in the midst of a hard fought presidential election) was rocked by economic crises.

“I was in class when Bear Stearns collapsed, when the market collapsed, when Obama was elected,” she remembers. “The RNC was here two weeks before class began. It was a stressful time, but the national election was also happening, and there was a lot of future-oriented dreaming.”

Program Director Phil Sandro’s Inequality in America class offered a timely blend of economic theory, community organizing and political advocacy training. Kenza appreciated the mix. “It was very solid groundwork with policy, organizing, and economics that took the step of putting all three together. Sometimes economists can get really into economics and not really move past the classroom, or organizers can get deep into community work and not move into economics.”

Kenza’s Inequality in America internship site placement at St. Stephen’s Human Services offered field experience with housing issues, and allowed her to make connections with the people who would become her coworkers when she graduated from Guilford the following semester. She stayed at St. Stephen’s as an Americorps employee for two years, working with the Day in the Life immersion program. In her final year there, she earned a Master’s Degree in Advocacy and Political leadership through the University of MN-Duluth.

Kenza is now the Communications and Development Director for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. She’s a valued guest lecturer in HECUA’s Inequality in America classroom, teaching current students about public policy campaigns and lobbying. HECUA students this semester participated in the Homeless Day on the Hill, an annual day of advocacy that Kenza helps to organize in partnership with the 100+ member organizations that comprise the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless.

Looking back on her trajectory, she says, “I think that HECUA led me to this, in a way, through my work at St. Stephen’s and beyond. Relationship building, knowing different organizations, understanding how to they fit together–these are things we developed in that classroom. Inequality in America also gave me context for the ecosystem of nonprofits here, a map of organizations with similar values.”

To learn more about HECUA’s semester long Inequality in America program, click here.

For more information about the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, click here.

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