Ismael Souley, a third-year civil engineering student and current ASI president, writes about his experience at Cal Poly Pomona.
My journey to the U.S. and Cal Poly Pomona can best be described as a roller coaster ride — yet one that’s been extremely rewarding and life-changing.
I landed at LAX on Dec. 29, 2004, after a 21-hour flight from my home country, Burkina Faso (located in West Africa). I was 18 years old, knew very little English, and spoke only French.
One thing I did know, however, was that getting a quality education would prepare me for a good career. Back home, students don’t have access to many universities, so those seeking a higher education must study abroad. As one of those students, I decided that America was the best choice.
My first stop was El Camino College Language Institute in Torrance Calif., where I spent 18 months learning the English language. After that, I studied computer science and later switched to civil engineering. After searching for the best program available, I was happy to be accepted at Cal Poly Pomona in fall 2008.
When I came to campus for the first time, I was amazed at its size. It looked as large as an entire city! I was impressed by the large faculty, the tremendous support given to students, the availability of office hours, places to study in the library and access to homework tutors, if needed. It gave me a true sense of what people in Third World countries are missing.
During my orientation, a student leader discussed campus involvement. Since I was trying to meet new people and integrate into a new college community, I decided to get involved. I ran for senator of the College of Engineering but I had to overcome many fears.
I was scared of public speaking — especially since English was my second language. However, I soon realized that this was all part of my growing experience, a challenge that should be embraced and faced head-on. After I was elected, I found it extremely rewarding to be able to help engineering students. Eventually, I wanted to expand my influence — being able to speak on behalf of all students.
Today, as the first international student to be elected Associated Students Inc. president, I have that opportunity. I’ve developed an even better understanding of the university’s structure, faculty and programs. Now, when students come to me for help, I can quickly reach out to the right person and expedite a quick solution.
I have also had some other incredible opportunities. At the beginning of my term last summer, the university president sent me to a one-week leadership training program in Monterey Bay, where I met with ASI presidents from all other CSU campuses. While there, I was exposed to some very high-profile people, including the director of the CIA and the former senator of the U.S. Department of Transportation, who served during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I learned a lot about the value of public service and the power we’ve all been given to help students at the university.
This kind of opportunity would not have been possible back home. My experiences at Cal Poly Pomona — many of them outside the classroom — have helped me become a leader. I’m getting an education and an opportunity that very few people will ever receive.
This university is the face of Southern California. I have experienced so much growth from my interactions with such a diverse community, and I will carry these relational skills for the rest of my life, especially in my chosen career of environmental engineering.
I’ve built a large network of connections, including alumni, donors and people who have a real passion for education. They have helped me see that some things may be challenging, but nothing is impossible. Even in trying times, there is so much to be thankful for.
Looking beyond graduation, I want to take my knowledge and experiences to wherever I can best help people, most likely in a Third World country. I strongly believe that public service is my calling.