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Boise State student Halima Hamud shares her journey to becoming a 2021 Truman Scholar

Photo courtesy of Halima Hamud

Student Halima Hamud is Boise State University’s fifth Truman Scholarship recipient, a title awarded to her for her numerous outstanding accomplishments in both service and leadership.

Hamud was born in a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. In 2009, she and her family moved to Boise, Idaho, in hopes of starting a new life. Hamud was only nine years old.

As Hamud continued to attend school in the United States, many of her academic efforts were inspired by her mother, who had worked as a midwife for 10 years during their time at the refugee camp. 

“She understands the importance of education,” Hamud said. “[It’s] an important pillar in our family.”

Hamud was finishing her associate degree in sociology at the College of Western Idaho in May 2019 when she decided to transfer to Boise State. Even before starting her new term at the university, Hamud knew she wanted to pursue a graduate degree.

“Some [questions] were ‘What am I going to do when I go to Boise State?’ and ‘What am I going to do after?’” Hamud said. “I am just that kind of person who likes to think ahead, you know, likes to sort out these opportunities so I’m aware that these are available to me.”

For Hamud, planning ahead meant getting involved with different organizations on campus, seeking out new opportunities and applying for the prestigious and rigorous Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which recognizes college juniors for their work in public service.

Halima Hamud
Photo courtesy of Halima Hamud

However, as is the case for many college students, life quickly got busy for Hamud.

“And so life happened, and I completely forgot about the deadline for the Truman [scholarship application],” Hamud said.

Hamud decided to reach out to her advisor, Boise State Honors College Fellowship Advisor Kate Huebschmann, and ask for help. 

“I emailed her and I said, ‘I see that I’m in a time crunch, I really want to apply for this, I’ve been thinking about it. Are you able to meet with me?’” Hamud said.

Even with the support she was receiving, Hamud still felt pressured by both internal and external barriers throughout the application process.

“I told Kate, ‘I don’t want to apply for this anymore. We’ve done a great job with the application, but this is too much for me,’” Hamud said. “She called me and said, ‘We’re going to go through this and I’m going to help you.’ I’m really, really grateful for Kate, if it wasn’t for her, I would not have been able to go through this process.”

Despite her past academic achievements, Hamud still experienced doubts in her qualifications not only as a student, but as a refugee living in Idaho. 

“There’s people from Harvard that got the Truman [scholarship], from Princeton, from Yale,” Hamud said. “I didn’t see myself as a full Truman [scholar]. I just didn’t see myself [among] the people that have won in the past.”

Hamud describes feeling the effects of “imposter syndrome” after turning in her application, something which she believes everyone experiences at some point in their lives.

“I thought, ‘What does a refugee girl in Idaho look like?’” Hamud said. “I didn’t see myself as [someone] interesting and I wish I did not see myself like that.”

Still, Hamud’s hard work paid off when she was recognized as a Truman Scholar Finalist.

“Being a finalist gave me more confidence,” Hamud said. “I think there were like 800 [applicants]. If I was able to stand out, then I can do this.”

In a statement from Hamud, she expressed immense gratitude towards the Boise State community, who played an active role in preparing Hamud for the various steps of her application.

“I am grateful for the opportunities that Boise State has offered me to expand my skills and hone on the qualities to be a public servant,” Hamud said. “I am also grateful for the many individuals involved in the preparation for [my] interview such as community members, fellowship office, and school of public service faculty.”

Halima Hamud
Photo courtesy of Halima Hamud

One of the most rewarding parts of achieving this academic milestone, according to Hamud, was being able to happily live up to the sacrifices that her mother made for her family.

“[She] worked for our family and provided for our family, and crossed continents and oceans, crossed two countries she doesn’t know, to give a better life to her family,” Hamud said. “I’m really happy and grateful to show her that she had an important impact in my life, not just being a mother but an educator and a supporter.”

Hamud will receive her Bachelor of Science in political science in May 2022 and is currently applying to several colleges across the country for her master’s degree, including Boise State.

She plans to earn her graduate degree in international relations with a focus in economic development, which she hopes to use to advocate for refugee women and girls through policymaking.

Hamud remains committed to empowering women through both past and future projects; such as her Circle of Excellence project, her role as president of the Multilingual Student Alliance and through working alongside several nonprofits to advocate for marginalized refugee voices.

Amongst all the challenges, Hamud emphasizes the importance of both helping and relying on one’s community for growth and support.

“I was just surrounded by support and I believe that’s why I was able to go through with it and receive the Truman award,” Hamud said. “You can accomplish so much just by asking.”

Her advice to students is to seek that first opportunity, seek the groups and causes that will immediately open doors to new projects and passions. Most importantly, know when to ask for help.

“[Do not] think that you are one person in this journey. This is your journey, yes, but you have so many people that are cheering on you that are supporting you.”

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