The Oberlin Stories Project

On embracing independence

Dagmawi Gebreselasse ’14

“Since coming to Oberlin, I have been fully responsible for my life and making important life decisions...I have started listening to myself and following my own path.”

Group of students on the steps of a house

One of my goals after finishing high school was to study engineering in college. Ever since I was a small child, I have always thought of engineers as people who apply science to the real world to provide goods to their community, and I wanted to do the same.

By the time I was in high school, the construction industry in Ethiopia was growing in a new dimension. I was intrigued by the work of civil engineers that was greatly improving people’s life standards. It felt great to see residents leave their substandard housing, which lacked a proper supply of water and electricity, and be able to afford to live in decent condos. It was impressive to see highways being built to connect cities that were once isolated from each other.

Witnessing all these infrastructure changes drew me to the field of construction. I joined Addis Ababa University and started studying civil engineering. Even though I was content with the program I chose to study, I was not happy with the curriculum, the way courses were taught in the department, or with the technology faculty in general. I was expected to pick a major right from the beginning, the university was big and had a large number of students enrolled in most departments, and accessing professors was usually next to impossible. The feeling of being lost in a big university and not being able to seek help from faculty and staff made me decide to apply to colleges in the United States.

I learned about Oberlin through an international college handbook. Out of the 3,600 U.S. colleges and universities to choose from, it was challenging to find those that suited my interest and would accept a transfer student. I was impressed by the helpful and supportive guidance I received from Oberlin’s admission office, especially Charles Grim, who assisted with every step I took through the application process, including writing application essays and credit transfer. At this point, I was convinced that Oberlin would be my first choice. It had an internationalized campus population, a good ranking among liberal arts colleges, and a small enrollment which meant small classes. I couldn’t ask for more.

I realize I have achieved not one but multiple goals by choosing Oberlin. Being raised in a conservative family, independence was the privilege I was least able to enjoy when I lived with my parents. Since coming to Oberlin, I have been fully responsible for my life and making important life decisions like how to use my time, what career path to choose, and how to make connections. It has not been easy to come out of my parents’ protective shell and try to make the right decisions, but I have started listening to myself and following my own path.

Besides having a life of my own, Oberlin has given me the experience of enjoying life in a residential campus. It has been worthwhile and fun interacting with friends outside of the classroom. Becoming a Residential Assistant (RA) became an outlet for me to develop my interaction with dorm mates and help improve residential education. As an RA, I had the privilege to know a lot of students and organize dorm programs that promote student community in residential houses. How awesome is it to have more than 20 students attending your pillow-fight program? How cool is it to hold a banana eating contest and see more than 50 bananas being devoured in less than three minutes?

At Oberlin, my academic experience has also progressed to the next level. As a current physics/engineering major I have enjoyed the company of great professors who always dedicate their time to teaching and who design their courses to their students’ interests. The interactive learning environment extends beyond the classroom; I enjoy hanging out with the professors over regular tea time sessions and listening to their enlightening physics conversations. Oberlin’s liberal arts curriculum has allowed me to take courses outside my concentration, in departments like economics, which I know has expanded my general knowledge and skills for career success.

As a Bonner Scholar, I have been able to engage myself in community service on and off campus. Through the Bonner Center’s connections to community services within Oberlin and all over the United States, I have had the chance to contribute to the Oberlin community through service and volunteering, like tutoring in Oberlin schools. I have also gone on a couple service trips to participate in service projects that are aimed at addressing social injustices in different communities. It has always been a satisfying experience to see how grateful people are to receive help and know that someone cares about them.

All in all, my Oberlin educational and residential experience has been rewarding in many ways. It has given me the chance for a better education, a good campus life, and a way to make connections for the future. Using these great opportunities at Oberlin, I plan to prepare for material science and engineering study at the graduate level. I still want to focus on the study of construction materials and join researchers in the effort to study environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and durable building materials.

After witnessing the fundamental life changes of residents back home that the construction industry has brought, I have come to believe that pursuing such a goal is appropriate in every way. I have seen people happy and grateful that they can afford better housing. I have seen prices of goods plummet because of better road conditions, which saved a lot of time and effort to transport the goods. I have seen electric power reach places that never had any power supply and enable the beneficiaries to open small-scale businesses and support their families. I hope that I will, one day, be able to actively engage myself to change people’s lives in the same regard, and Oberlin is the right place to give me this start.