Interdisciplinary studies major inspired by life, Dominican experiences

On March 17, Hawi Awash ’17 presented her senior thesis – A Poverty Simulation – in Guzman Lecture Hall to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless.

The project started last October. But, in actuality, it began about 15 years ago when Hawi was living in a refugee camp in Kenya. Seven-year-old Hawi was en route to a store to buy groceries with her parent’s money when she spotted a girl about the same age, begging in the street. The girl, wearing a filthy white dress soiled by surrounding dirt, was asking for help because her mother was disabled and unable to work.

It was a fateful moment and decision for Hawi.

“Why don’t I just give her the money and get in trouble for it. To me, doing something to help the girl was a better option,” says Hawi, now a senior focused on med school while majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Biology.

“So I gave her the money and ever since I’ve wanted to help people.  She didn’t have a choice. She didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Homelessness is not an identity. It’s more of a situation of circumstances.”

Hawi has carried that caring attitude with her from Ethiopia, her homeland, to Dominican. Last year, she entered the Dominican Semester Abroad Program through the Global Education Office to study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  Both Maastricht and Dominican were the perfect fit, allowing Hawi to take a balance of medical and humanities courses that integrated the sciences and the humanities. The combination fascinates and challenges her.

“I want to go to med school, but I don’t want to go into it like other students,” Hawi says. “I want to go to med school with a wider and whole different perspective.”

That perspective involves her senior project. In January, Hawi was one of 20 college students to be selected into the first class for a new Principal Community Scholars Program through Campus Compact. She intends to apply the $1,000 scholarship to her Poverty Simulation. With the help of professor Julia Van der Ryn, director of Service-Learning, and the non-profit Downtown Streets Team, Hawi was able to rent a Poverty Simulation kit for her senior thesis.

Guzman Lecture Hall was transformed into a virtual community where Dominican students were introduced to a simulation of how people can evolve from a normalized life into a life of homelessness. Hawi recruited dozens of Dominican students to participate in the simulation, which was organized by the Downtown Streets Team. and covered by the Marin Independent Journal

Hawi’s aim is to inspire others, something she acquired working closely with Van der Ryn and instructors such as Dr. Henry Shreibman, assistant professor of religion and philosophy in the School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. They helped validate her decision to come to Dominican.

“I’m so glad I made that choice,” Hawi says. “This experience has been phenomenal. Life changing. I feel like I came here as a different person and I’m leaving as a whole different person. I’m now so open minded on so many different levels.”

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February 15, 2017