Her future is bright

Photo by Jenny Kirk Ammran Mohamed is all smiles as school counselor Heidi Bengtson adds her signature to the official Columbia University document. Mohamed’s parents will also sign it this week.

MARSHALL — Marshall High School senior Ammran Mohamed is one step closer to fulfilling her dream of being an eye surgeon one day after recently securing a full-ride scholarship to Columbia University in New York.

Mohamed, the third youngest of eight and the first of Amina Mohamed and Hussein Nur’s children to be born in America, was euphoric when she found out.

“I was at school when I found out,” Ammran Mohamed said. “It was the last 20 minutes of class and I had just gotten done with an exam. I went (online) to see if the status was updated and it was. I went crazy and didn’t know what to do. I went up to my teacher and said, ‘Can I go call my parents? I just got a full ride to Columbia.’ She’s like, ‘Yes, go!'”

Mohamed’s dad was the first family member to receive the news. While Columbia University is one of the top universities in the country, it is not as well-known as other Ivy League schools such as Harvard (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Yale (New Haven, Connecticut).

“My dad really only knows about Harvard, so he said, ‘Is that a good school?'” she said. “I told him it was the Number 3 school and that (former U.S. President) Barack Obama went there and he said, ‘Wow. That’s really good.'”

Obama transferred to Columbia and received his bachelor’s degree there before getting his law degree from Harvard. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated at the top of her class from Columbia Law School and served as a professor there as well.

“We had looked it up to see what kind of people graduated from there,” Mohamed said. “The first person who came up was Obama and then Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We had just watched a documentary on her a couple weeks before that. I think that’s when it really sunk in for my dad.”

Mohamed chuckles when she recalls her dad’s reaction when she asked him to keep the news secret until she could inform the rest of the family.

“He said, ‘I can’t hold it in,'” she said. “He ended up telling everyone who got home before me.”

Mohamed told her counselor who had helped her in her high school career.

“I knew she had applied and then when she told me, honestly, I think I was in shock,” MHS school counselor Heidi Bengtson said. “It’s just mind-blowing, to get accepted, to get a full ride, to know you don’t have any financial worries when you’re going there and that you can focus on your dream. And she has a really big dream.”

While the public education system and its educators provided a solid academic foundation, Mohamed got the inspiration to pursue ophthalmology from her family.

“There are only three out of the 10 of us who don’t have glasses, so bad eyesight runs in the family,” Mohamed said. “I was not one of the lucky ones. I started wearing glasses when I was really young, like in fifth grade. From there, I just started thinking that ophthalmology is one of the things I specifically want to do.”

An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. After receiving a four-year degree and completing at least eight years of additional medical training, a person would be licensed to practice medicine and do surgery.

“I hate glasses,” Mohamed said. “I have black marks under my eyes because of them. So I’d love to figure out some kind of eye drops or something. So for a week, you could have 20/20 vision and then you’d need to refresh again, but you wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore.”

Mohamed said she’s thinking of majoring in either biology or chemistry and doing a pre-med track at Columbia and then go off to medical school.

“For ophthalmology, it’s four years of college, plus two years of theoreticals in medical school and then two years of clinicals or internship and then four to six years of residency, depending on if you want to subspecialize in a specific part of the eye, like corneal surgery,” Mohamed said. “I want to do ophthalmology, but I’m going to look at all my options.”

Chairman Jeff Chapman has been a Marshall Public School Board member for nearly 20 years is impressed by Mohamed’s accomplishments.

“Ammran works so hard and studies so hard,” Chapman said. “She did everything she could and now she’s accepted to Columbia. It’s a great American story of coming to America, where if you apply yourself, work hard and use our great public education system, you can advance your status in the world. A lot of presidents have come out of Columbia. It’s amazing.”

Chapman said education is the key to everything and that a major accomplishment like a full ride to a prestigious institution should be celebrated by the whole community.

While Mohamed has done the work, her family and the school community have supported and challenged her along the way.

“We are all excited and proud of Ammran receiving her scholarship to Columbia,” MPS Superintendent Scott Monson said. “That says a great deal about her as a student and person and certainly reiterates all the hard work that she has put in. Students receiving any type or amount of scholarship have put forth the effort to earn it and have been able to take advantage of the opportunities that they have.”

After informing her parents about getting accepted to Columbia, she said she then ran around the school trying to find teachers Pam Fier-Hansen and Brian Leibfried, who both wrote letters of recommendation for her. She also found Bengtson and MHS Principal Brian Jones.

“Ms. Bengtson has helped me with a lot,” Mohamed said. “She’s always telling me about different scholarships I can do.”

Mohamed is set to receive roughly $300,000 toward her academic pursuit over the course of four years.

“I just got the financial statement and it’s $80,000 a year,” she said. “It’s everything except for $5,000 for work study that they want me to do. That’s a lot.”

Bengtson said the academic scholarship definitely takes a huge load off.

“Then you can focus on what you’re going for, what you want to do and who you want to become,” she said. “You have that opportunity available to you now without that extra worry later on, too.”

Mohamed choked up when she spoke about how it will help the whole family out.

“My brother is in college right now and my older two sisters both want to go on to medical school and law school, so the price was getting a little high,” she said. “It’s a couple hundred thousand dollars a year for each of them, and my younger brother and sister still have college to attend in the future, so it’s nice just knowing I can go for free and that my parents can just worry about getting my other siblings through college.”

Mohamed’s dad came to America in 1997, while the rest of the family remained in Somalia until he found the ideal place to work and raise a family.

“He lived in Virginia and then went scoping out to see where we could live and where he could get a job,” Mohamed said. “My mom stayed with the rest of the kids. Then in 1999, they came to Marshall and I was born about a year later.”

Mohamed said education is important in Somali culture, but less so for women.

“My dad has at least some post-secondary education,” she said. “He did freelance lawyer work for other people. He was building a life there when the civil war happened, so then he came to America.”

Having spent a lot of time applying to college and for scholarships, Mohamed said she now feels a great deal of relief.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about college anymore. It’s the most chill time I’ve had all year because I don’t have to worry about college applications and SMSU (Southwest Minnesota State University) is closed now (for semester break).”

Mohamed is still enrolled in two Advanced Placement classes at MHS. She plans to continue taking Postsecondary Enrollment Options courses on campus at SMSU next semester as well.

“I want to finish off my second college chemistry and my second college physics classes,” she said.

Jones said that by the time Mohamed graduates, she will have taken six AP classes, five PSEO classes and two College in the Schools classes.

“In the last 20 years, I can only remember one student attending an Ivy League school and that was Matt Mulder in 2001,” Jones said. “This year we’ll have two, as Devine Bauman is going to Harvard.”

While academics have been her biggest focus throughout her educational career at Marshall Public Schools, Mohamed has also been active in other ways. She’s the student council president after serving as vice president last year. She has also spent two years as a student school board representative and a student rep for the Community Services advisory board.

“I’ve had the chance to get to know Ammran in her role as a student school board member, and I am not surprised that she received the Columbia scholarship offer,” Monson said. “She is a smart, hard-working and detail-oriented young lady. I am very excited for her and proud of her. We want all of our graduates to be career- and college-ready when they graduate and the type of scholarship that Ammran has been offered will definitely help her pursue a future in whatever she chooses.”

While Mohamed is likely to be an inspiration to others, she isn’t falling back on her laurels. She has aspirations of being the 2019 class valedictorian.

“During my freshman year, my dad told me I wanted that,” Mohamed said with a little laugh.

Mohamed currently has a 4.091 grade point average and is near the top of the class, so her goal is certainly a possibility.

“Ammran currently ranks in the top 5 percent of the Class of 2019,” Jones said.

While her parents have definitely pushed her, Mohamed said she knows that they’re proud of her accomplishments and that they have a lot of confidence in her and for her future as well.

“My dad always tells me that, even if it seems like you don’t have options, just go for it and you’ll get there,” Mohamed said.