Paying it Forward

posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2022 in  Alumni Profiles

Hawkeye Community College Graduate Works to Support, Empower Families

College was never part of Hsae Meh’s plans growing up. Her parents had fled the civil war in Burma, and Hsae Meh was born in one of Thailand’s Karenni refugee camps. Her family relocated to the U.S. in 2009, and Hsae Meh was paired with a social worker to help her adjust to her new home.

“I did not have any plan to go to college because my English wasn’t that great and I just knew nothing about college,” she said. The social worker explained how college had helped her gain the knowledge and skills needed to help refugees like her. 

“That inspired me,” Hsae Meh said. “I wanted to be like her; I wanted to help people. I wanted to make a difference... She helped empower me in a lot of ways.”

Hsae Meh’s family moved to Waterloo in 2015 to be closer to family, and that fall, she enrolled at Hawkeye Community College. She wasn’t ready for a big university, so being on a smaller campus with smaller classes helped Hsae Meh get used to college life. Since she knew social work was her goal, she enrolled in the program and focused her electives on courses that would transfer to the University of Northern Iowa’s social work program. It was at Hawkeye that the once shy and nervous student started to feel confident. 

“Through my classes, I was able to experience and learn new things, and I had a great discovery of who I am,” she recalls. “One assignment asked me to just write about who I am—my identity and role in the world. That was a really great discovery of myself and who I want to be in the future. It was really empowering.” 

After graduating from Hawkeye in 2017, Hsae Meh transferred to UNI, completing her social work bachelor’s degree in 2019. She worked as an interpreter and refugee victim services coordinator before starting as a family service worker for Tri-County Child and Family Development Council, Inc. / Head Start.

“I work with children and their families,” she said. “My main role is to be a support for 
my families.” Hsae Meh loves her work, and she hopes to provide each family with the guidance, support, and empowerment she once received. 

"Empowerment is really a great thing," she said. "Once I learned more about myself, I knew my role better in this world and what I’m here to do."

Learn more about the Liberal Arts Transfer Plan and Hawkeye's Transfer Majors.


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