Isar Shamal, a student in Southeast Community College's Dental Assisting program, is the recipient of the Learn to Dream Achiever Award for the 2010 Summer Quarter.
The award is presented to an SCC student on the Learn to Dream Scholarship who has completed at least two successful quarters of classes at the College and who has demonstrated personal improvement and achievement.
"I couldn't believe that I received this award," Shamal said. "I told my Mom (Fatima Ahmadi) and e-mailed three high school teachers. It's a good feeling. Mom is really excited for me."
The 2009 graduate of Lincoln North Star High School holds a 3.6 grade-point average. He is in his fourth quarter at SCC.
"I want to become a dental assistant first," he said, "but maybe later on in life I'll go back to school and become a dentist."
If there is a word to describe Shamal's life, it would be change.
Born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Shamal has lived nearly his entire life without his biological father. When Shamal was a year old, the Taliban came to the house to recruit his father into the terrorist group. When Shamal's father refused, he was shot and killed.
"I've seen pictures of him, but that's about it," Shamal said.
Their world turned upside down, Fatima moved her family to Pakistan, where they lived until 2001.
"Things started getting bad there, so we came to America," Shamal said.
Shamal was nearly 11 years old when he, his mother, twin brother and two sisters set foot on American soil for the first time. It was Sept. 27, 2001. They lived among many other Afghan families in Houston, Texas.
"We moved two or three times there because of bad neighborhoods," Shamal said.
While in Houston, Fatima discovered she had cousins living in Nebraska. In June 2004, the family moved to Lincoln.
Shamal's twin brother, Ansar, and older sister, Asiya, are students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A younger sister attends North Star.
Shamal's interest in dental assisting can be traced to his parents. Both were physicians in Afghanistan.
"I wanted to follow them into the health field," Shamal said. "I had dental assisting in mind while I was in high school."
Paying for college always was on Shamal's mind. The Learn to Dream Scholarship at SCC was a blessing, Shamal said. He's taken the maximum 45 quarter credit hours, all paid for by the scholarship.
"It was big," Shamal said of the LTD Scholarship. "That first year of college, I didn't know how I was going to pay for it. My high school counselor told me about the Learn to Dream Scholarship and asked me to apply."
Shamal said at first he wasn't sure he wanted to go to college, knowing how much it cost.
"It's been a good experience," he said. "I've met friends and some pretty cool people. I feel free to do things."
Shamal received more good news when he was selected to receive a scholarship from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which provides scholarships for tuition and fees up to $3,200 per semester and a textbook allowance of $400 per semester for undergraduate students attending Nebraska public universities, colleges or community colleges. The funds are available to the extent that tuition, fees and books are not already covered by other grants or scholarships. Financial need is the primary criterion.
"When I got the letter in the mail, I started crying," Shamal said. "My Mom came to America to give me and my siblings a second chance. Now I'm one less person she has to worry about putting through college."
The Learn to Dream Scholarship is collaboration between Lincoln's private and public high schools, SCC, and generous funding from Nelnet and Union Bank & Trust. The first of its kind in Nebraska, Learn to Dream pays for tuition and fees up to 45 quarter credits at SCC (about one year of study). Once enrolled, students must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average to remain eligible.