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UW junior selected as student likely to "make a difference"


Alula Asfaw, a University of Washington junior, is one of 65 students in the country selected as a Truman Scholar, on the basis of his leadership potential, intellectual ability the likelihood of “making a difference.”

Each scholarship provides $30,000 for graduate study.

Asfaw was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1985. His parents sent him to the United States shortly after his sixth birthday to live with his older brother and to protect him from the dangers of war in his home country. He attended both Cleveland and Highline high schools. Asfaw knew at an early age that he wanted to pursue a career of public service; he says his activities were “more than inspired” by the career path of President Bill Clinton.

As a University of Washington student, he became conscious of what he called “survivor’s guilt” when he realized that very few of his high school classmates were attending college. “Not enough had guidance on why they should think about college. Few had parents who went to college,” he said.

On his own, Asfaw developed a proposal for addressing this problem. He proposed that the UW create an undergraduate class that explored the relationship between educational opportunity and social mobility. The class would meet every other week. On alternate weeks the students in the class would go to one of the region’s high schools and help students there through the college application process.

Asfaw brought the proposal to the UW administration, which assisted Asfaw in developing what he called the Dream Project. Stan Chernikoff, principal lecturer in earth and space sciences, agreed to teach the class; Ed Taylor, who at that time was associate professor of education and is now vice provost and dean of undergraduate academic affairs, gave Asfaw advice about how to make the project work.

Asfaw recruited students for the class, which is now in its second year. It will be serving more than 200 students from six area high schools; 58 UW students are enrolled in the class. Asfaw is seeking additional funding to sustain the program over the long term.

Asfaw plans to pursue two degrees, a doctorate and a law degree, to enable him to pursue his public service activities at a higher level.

More information about the Dream Project is available at


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