Long, Winding Road Leads to Success
By Lisa Hendrickson
Mohamed Osman Mohamed is relishing his new life in Indiana after surmounting hefty challenges that included fleeing a civil war in his native Somalia, living in a refugee camp in Kenya and settling in the U.S. without speaking English.
Life path: Mohamed was raised by his grandmother in a rural area of southern Somalia. At 16, he moved to a refugee camp in Kenya. After living in the camp for three years, Mohamed and two cousins came to Indianapolis through a United Nations resettlement program. Exodus, an Indianapolis refugee support organization, arranged an apartment for the trio and found them warehouse jobs in Terre Haute. “Exodus would bus us there, we would work a 12-hour shift and then they would bus us back to Indy. We would sleep four hours or so and then go back to work. I was glad that I was working, but the work was just tremendously hard.” He found another warehouse job closer to home, then decided to head to a Job Corps training center in Edinburgh, IN, with hopes of becoming an electrician. The electrician program was already full, but he stayed to take English classes and later enrolled in an office administration program.
On starting college: Mohamed learned about a program run by Atterbury Job Corps at IVY Tech-Columbus, where financial aid covered his tuition, and room and board were covered by Job Corps. “I didn’t know how college worked; I didn’t know what a major was.” After exploring various fields during his first year, he earned a certificate in general studies.
On taking advantage of opportunities: He learned about IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and was accepted into its Bloomington program. “I made a lot of friends. People were so helpful. I worked the whole time I was there.” Scholarships and financial aid also helped him make ends meet. In his senior year, a professor suggested he apply for SPEA’s Washington Leadership Program. He didn’t think he could afford it. His professor encouraged him, and he was one of 20 accepted into the highly competitive program. Terrence Straub, a member of the SPEA advisory board, sponsored him and covered all expenses. He applied for internships, earning one with the U.S. Treasury Department. Before graduating from IU, he decided to study abroad at King’s College in London. “There are so many scholarships available if you are willing to do your part.”
The power of networking: After graduation, Mohamed was hired at the Indiana Department of Transportation. He began attending community events and volunteering for Exodus. “I spoke at one of the Exodus programs and I met people from Lilly. Through that connection, I came to Lilly as an investor relations analyst.” With his degree in public affairs, he was drawn to Lilly’s Corporate Responsibility program, which supports community development initiatives and non-profit social programs. He now holds the position of corporate responsibility and sustainability analyst.
Advice: “If you don’t know what to do, try everything. Be open to different fields, different ideas. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to people. Send an email to someone you don’t know or stop them in the hall and talk to them. People want to help. All the things I have accomplished would be impossible if I had tried to do it all by myself. Do your best at whatever you’re given. People will remember you and give you other opportunities.”