Afghani student inspires at HCC's Diversity Awards breakfast

An Afghani student shares her inspiring story and thanks her chemistry professor.
Joan Holmes, Hillsborough Community College special assistant to the president, left, and HCC president Ken Atwater are all smiles after chemistry professor Brenda Alanis received the college diversity council's Exemplary Faculty Award. Hillsborough Community College
Joan Holmes, Hillsborough Community College special assistant to the president, left, and HCC president Ken Atwater are all smiles after chemistry professor Brenda Alanis received the college diversity council's Exemplary Faculty Award.Hillsborough Community College
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RIVERVIEW — Khumari Barakzai is a strong believer in human rights for all people, no matter their gender or ethnicity.

Her stance is steeped in the reality of being born and raised in Afghanistan, a country in which men are valued much more than women and where 85 percent of Afghan females have no formal education, according to the statistics division of the United Nations.

Fortunately for her, the now 24-year-old Barakzai did graduate from high school in Afghanistan and, together with her Afghan husband, came to Florida five years ago.

Barakzai since has enrolled as a student a Hillsborough Community College, and her moving story came to light at HCC's recent inaugural Champion of Diversity Awards Breakfast at the Regent.

Barakzai has earned high marks at the college, putting her on track to receive her associate's degree and enroll at the University of South Florida, where she will major in computer science.

Her ultimate objective is to teach computer science at a school in the Tampa Bay area and to offer her skills on a humanitarian level to help educate girls in impoverished countries like Afghanistan, Africa and India.

While it all sounds well and good, Barakzai, who also is close to becoming an American citizen, faced a dire setback in her educational plans several months ago due to her inability to continue paying for her classes at HCC .

But, thanks to the compassion and personal guidance of HCC Dale Mabry campus chemistry instructor Brenda Alanis, she came up with a resolution. Alanis called the young woman and top-notch student into her office after noticing she hadn't been in class for a couple of days, and helped her obtain scholarship money and a part-time on-campus job.

What's more, Barakzai will be named a Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero of Tomorrow later this month as the result of Alanis nominating her. Attached to the designation is a check for $50,000, half of which she'll donate to the Hillsborough Community College Foundation and the remainder she plans to earmark for spending on her philanthropic efforts to assist underserved young people obtain an education.

"Ms. Alanis is the person who helped me during my hard times and her recommendation letters opened so many doors," Barak­zai said. "She did anything and everything she could do. She's amazing."

On the flip side, Alanis was presented with the HCC Diversity Council's Exemplary Faculty Award during the Oct. 6 breakfast. The honor was in recognition of her empathy for and offers of assistance to Barakzai and other students of various cultural backgrounds.

"My students drive me to do what I do and I love seeing them succeed," said Alanis, a teacher at the college since 2015.

In addition, Steven Crudup, student activity coordinator on the Dale Mabry campus, was named the diversity council's exemplary staff member; Dr. Jennifer China, dean of student services at the Brandon campus, received the exemplary administrator award; and Suncoast Credit Union, a longtime supporter that in the last 10 years has donated more than $750,000 to the college, was recognized as the school's exemplary corporate sponsor.

Craig Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, was the event's guest speaker. HCC president Ken Atwater gave the opening remarks and Dr. Joan Holmes, special assistant to the president for equity, diversity and special programs, moderated the program.

"It was a great opportunity to celebrate HCC's diversity," Holmes said. "All the nominees (which numbered more than 250) do so much that people don't know about, so it was a chance to show them that they are really valued."

Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]

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