Alumnus Accepted into Four Prestigious Graduate Programs Attributes Success to Exceptional Education at Westminster

Alumnus Sayidcali Ahmed, ’23 ΦΔΘ, attributes the exceptional education he received at Westminster College to his acceptance into graduate school at four prestigious universities: Harvard University, Duke University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Cornell University.

After much consideration, Ahmed announced this spring that he will begin studying this fall for his master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in government, politics, and policy studies at the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell.

He says, “This incredible opportunity represents a significant milestone in my academic journey and would not have been possible without the exceptional education and support I received at Westminster College.”

Read more about Ahmed’s passion for Westminster College and why it set him up to make an impact — in the United States and his home continent of Africa.

Where are you from originally? I hail from Hargeisa, the capital city of Somaliland, a place deeply cherished by my family and me as our beloved home.

Where are you currently living? Presently, I reside in Faribault, Minnesota, where I am actively engaged in various educational and community development endeavors.

What was your major at Westminster? During my time at Westminster College, I pursued a dual major in political science and global and transnational studies, a combination that provided me with a comprehensive understanding of global affairs and policy dynamics.

How did you initially find out about Westminster? My introduction to Westminster College stemmed from conversations with fellow alumni who, like myself, graduated from the same high school in Somaliland. Their experiences and insights into Westminster College resonated deeply with me and motivated my application process.

What initially attracted you to the College? What captivated me about Westminster College was its intimate, tight-knit community and its unwavering commitment to nurturing students’ academic, professional, and personal growth. The institution’s unique approach to education, emphasizing cross-disciplinary learning and smaller class sizes, appealed to my desire for a more personalized and collaborative learning environment.

How did your family feel about you being so far from home? My family was overjoyed and supportive of my pursuit of higher education, despite the distance from home. Their encouragement and enthusiasm fueled my determination to make the most of my educational journey and to seize the opportunities that lay ahead.

What was your campus experience like? My experience at Westminster College was incredibly welcoming and inclusive. I found myself embraced by a vibrant community of students, faculty, and staff, and I was encouraged to participate in various clubs and extracurricular activities that enriched my college experience.

Westminster College not only provided me with an exceptional undergraduate education but also equipped me with the skills and knowledge needed to excel beyond the classroom. The faculty and staff at Westminster played a pivotal role in my academic journey, fostering an environment where I could thrive intellectually and professionally. This preparation was evident when I received a prestigious public policy and international affairs fellowship at Princeton University during my junior year, a testament to the quality of education and opportunities available at Westminster. Through engaging and challenging coursework in areas such as economics, statistics, and policy analysis, I developed a strong foundation that has propelled me towards pursuing my master’s degree in public administration. Overall, my experience at Westminster College has been instrumental in shaping my academic and career aspirations, instilling in me a deep commitment to lifelong learning and positive change.

Was attending college in the United States a difficult adjustment? While the transition to a new country and culture presented its challenges, my previous experience as an exchange student in Indiana prepared me well for life at Westminster College. Additionally, the unwavering support and guidance provided by the college’s admissions office, global studies department, and other support services eased my transition and made my experience fulfilling and rewarding.

What activities and organizations were you involved in at Westminster? During my undergraduate years, I was actively involved in various leadership roles and extracurricular activities, including serving as senior class president, senate member of the Student Government Association, mentor to first-year students, and more. These experiences not only enriched my college experience but also played a significant role in my graduate school admissions, demonstrating my leadership abilities and commitment to community engagement.

In addition to your academic achievements, what else do you feel helped with your acceptance to four well-respected institutions? In addition to my academic achievements, I attribute my acceptance to four esteemed institutions to the mentorship, guidance, and unwavering support I received from my professors at Westminster College. Their encouragement and belief in my potential empowered me to pursue and succeed in these opportunities.

What have you been doing with your time this past year? I am currently serving as program manager at Waano Learning Center in Faribault, Minnesota. Additionally, I hold pivotal roles as a founding faculty member, literacy teacher, and member of the board of directors at Surad Academy, a distinguished K-5 charter school. These roles allow me to actively contribute to the education and development of students, shaping their academic journey and fostering a supportive learning environment.

I am also currently working as a research collaborator with Dr. Rehanna Kheshgi at Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Dr. Rehanna Kheshgi is an ethnomusicologist focusing on community engagement through music with Somali diaspora communities in the U.S. Our collaboration centers around her project “Somali Songs: Building Community through Sound,” which aims to empower Somali youth and foster intergenerational knowledge sharing through music. This project has received support from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council. Additionally, I serve as a mentor to many young Abaarso students who are currently attending various colleges and universities here in America. My role is to provide support and guidance to them in their academic journey and assist them in adapting to social life in America. It’s a rewarding experience to be able to share my own experiences and help pave the way for the next generation of students from Abaarso School of Science and Technology in my home country.

What advice would you give prospective international students who may be considering colleges or universities in an urban setting? For prospective international students considering Westminster College, I advise embracing the close-knit community and diverse opportunities available. Take advantage of support services offered on campus to navigate college life and academic challenges. Explore the surrounding area for cultural and recreational activities to enhance your college experience. Connect with the international community at Westminster College for support and cultural exchange. Ultimately, the supportive environment, diverse opportunities, and resources available make Westminster College a rewarding choice for international students seeking a well-rounded education.

What is your favorite Westminster memory? One of my fondest memories at Westminster College was attending the Hancock Symposium during my freshman year. It was a transformative experience to engage with diverse experts and thought leaders on a range of pressing global issues, sparking meaningful discussions and broadening my perspective.

What was your favorite spot on campus? I have many cherished memories of spending time at Reeves Library and the Center for Faith & Service, where I enjoyed meaningful conversations and connections with friends and staff members.

Who were your favorite faculty members? I would like to mention the amazing professors, mentors, and staff who have supported me every step of the way during my time at Westminster. Specifically, I would like to express my gratitude and thanks to Dr. Kali Wright-Smith, Dr. Holzer, and Dr. Jeremy Straughn for their unwavering support and guidance throughout my journey. Their mentorship has been invaluable, and their willingness to write my letters of recommendation for each school is something I can’t thank them enough for in words.

What do you do in your free time? In my free time, I enjoy outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, and playing soccer. I also find solace in reading books and watching documentaries, enriching my understanding of the world around me.

Finally, what are your plans after receiving your master’s degree? My long-term goal is to return to Africa, particularly Somaliland, to contribute to the establishment of robust public institutions through meticulously crafted public policies. I aim to address a wide array of policy issues while understanding the impact of various stakeholders, including state governments and intergovernmental organizations, on these policies. Overall, I am deeply committed to making a meaningful difference in my community and beyond, and I am excited to embark on this journey towards realizing my aspirations at Cornell University and beyond.


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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.