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Refugee turned MPA student gains life-changing experience

Donors enable students to follow their dreams

Ngo Hna, MPA '19.
Ngo Hna, MPA '19. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

When Ngo Hna, MPA ’19, arrived in the United States for the first time in 2008 as a refugee from Burma, she was a teenager who didn’t speak English and knew no one here except her uncle, who emigrated with her.

Hna, who also goes by NuNu, navigated high school in Rochester, N.Y., adjusted to American customs and learned English well enough to graduate from St. John Fisher College with a bachelor’s degree in international studies.

However, her path to earning a graduate degree, and the life-changing opportunities that come with it, nearly came to a halt last year. Despite working during summer and winter breaks — on the assembly line in an auto-parts factory, as a server in a restaurant and at other small jobs — and saving every bit she could, the costs of tuition and other expenses to advance in the Master of Public Administration program at Binghamton University grew beyond her reach. The Maureen C. White Adult Learner Scholarship made all the difference.

“Once school started, working was not an option because English remains a major challenge for me,” said Hna, who pursued a certificate in nonprofit management as part of the MPA program. “I must dedicate at least twice the study time as native English speakers. Facing all this, I considered taking another year off — which could have turned into five or 10 years — to earn money, even though I am already 27 years old.”

The scholarship was established in 1990 in honor of Maureen C. White ’76, MA ’79, a two-time School of Education and Human Development graduate, retired staff member with a 43-year career at Binghamton and longtime proponent of adult and continuing education. Recipients of the scholarship are adult learners with demonstrated financial need who are registered in the University’s College of Community and Public Affairs.

“Not everyone has had the luxury of parents or others to provide financial support for their education,” White said. “It is more important than ever today for individuals to be able to acquire a degree to help them succeed and improve their careers and their lives.”

Hna wants to work for a nonprofit, developing programs that help refugees and other populations in need. She would like to be a role model for youths facing challenges similar to the ones she faced after arriving in the United States.

“When I learned I received the scholarship, I was overwhelmed, and the joyful tears could not stop,” Hna said. “All I could think was, ‘How fantastic. Now I will be able to continue in school.’”

The University was a wonderful place to work. I am thankful to the many individuals who supported me in my educational goals and offered me opportunities to advance. I am so pleased to give back to help others.

— Maureen C. White ’76, MA ’79