Phillips Scholars Focusing on Helping International Students

Jaleta Tesgera '24 (left) and Naomi Gebru '25 selected as Phillips Scholars

Two Concordia College students have been named Phillips Scholars for their dedication to community service. 

Jaleta Tesgera ’24 and Naomi Gebru ’25 were selected for the scholarship, which promotes innovative ideas for students to develop answers to unmet community needs. The students will receive more than $9,000 over two years to fund their efforts. They are among the 10 students from 15 Minnesota Private College Council institutions who received the scholarship. The program is funded by the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. Segni Tulu ’25 was selected as an alternate. 

Tesgera will be creating an informational support system for Minnesota international students. His website will provide resources and in-depth guides to help students navigate life in the United States while off campus. An important element of Tesgera’s project is having active and open question-and-answer communication to connect incoming and current students with former international students, as well as other students, faculty, peers, and advisors. 

He drew inspiration from the difficulties he faced finding an apartment during his sophomore year. As a native of Ethiopia, he said he didn’t have the same knowledge of systems that residents have learned over time, such as opening a bank account, maintaining a good credit score, and obtaining a driver’s license.    

“If students can’t reap the resources available, they get disadvantaged in not doing so,” Tesgera said. “I want to challenge the quote by Susan RoAne: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you’ by saying that it is effectively leveraging both who knows you and what you know that leads to perpetual success. The significance becomes unquestionable to us international students.”

Gebru is also focusing her project on helping international students. She is setting up a flexible mentoring network that will connect students with Concordia graduates. She hopes to work hand in hand with campus organizations and the alumni office.

The idea came through her experience as a mentee in the Hollstadt Women in Leadership mentoring program. She had told a friend how grateful she was to learn from someone about overcoming obstacles to advance their career and wished more people had that opportunity.

“We need that inspiration more than we know,” said Gebru, who is also from Ethiopia. “That wish can become a reality through this project. Being foreign to a country, an environment and an education system surrounds itself with struggles that are not visible to the eyes of many. Although we do not have the same background and upbringing nor do we all come from the same place, being international students, we share our common hardships.”

The two say they are grateful for the opportunity to help others.

“I was extremely happy because I put my heart and soul into this project,” Gebru said. “I was in disbelief because this is one of the greatest honors. I was excited thinking about this project coming to fruition because I knew it would make a huge difference in the lives of so many people both mentors and mentees.”

“This comes down to an important aspect of leadership; it’s the fulfillment I find in philanthropy,” Tesgera said. “In turn, I hope this encourages others to do the same. ‘Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much,’ and igniting this synergy is a rewarding experience I hope to witness in the foreseeable future.”

Learn more about the Phillips Scholars program.