University of Michigan junior Hanan Yahya is working toward completing her degree in International Studies with a minor in Urban Studies and Community Action and Social Change (CASC) with a goal toward serving her hometown, Detroit and homeland, Yemen.
As valedictorian in her Detroit high school, Universal Academy, Yahya came to U-M with an already impressive resume of community organizing experience ranging from student government to ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), the largest Arab American human services nonprofit in the United States.
“My family taught me the virtue of giving back to the community and being a good citizen, Yahya said. “I broke cultural norms to do the work I do, and I love it.”
Her community action involvement expanded considerably once she came to the Ann Arbor campus where she became an active member of the Muslim Students’ Association, a fellow of the Barger Leadership Institute, and became further involved with community advocacy among the Arab American community.
Her enthusiasm grew with each endeavor. In 2013, through U-M’s Semester in Detroit program, she created a resource guide for the Chadsey-Condon Community Organization to improve awareness of services for community residents and supported youth employment programs.
My family taught me the virtue of giving back to the community and being a good citizen. I broke cultural norms to do the work I do, and I love it.
She went on to become a Comcast Digital Connectors Instructor for two years to empower a class of 25 students of Arab American background in an intensive program to teach advanced digital skills and develop the students into strong community leaders.
“I’m one of nine children and the community outreach path I chose was new to my family and not immediately embraced,” Yahya said. “I want to represent my culture on campus and I had to prove to my family that I could do this. My mom was the first to accept my path when she saw me grow and heard from other people about the work I was doing…. I made her proud.”
Yahya also is involved with ACCESS JIRAN as a youth dialogue coordinator where she works with youth from three different Detroit neighborhoods to engage young people in dialogue about different cultures and dismantle myths through productive conversations.
“We teach the youth how to talk with one another and resolve issues through conversation and understanding,” Yahya said.
On campus, she continues to work as a facilitator in the Summer Youth Dialogues program through the Program on Intergroup Relations and the School of Social Work.
I love my CASC classes and I couldn’t do all of this without the help of scholarships, which allow me to complete my degree and continue to do community outreach.
As president of the Michigan chapter of the American Association of Yemeni Students and Professionals, Yahya and her board promoted higher education and progress in the Yemeni American community.
“Hanan’s ability to balance her academic work and her dedication to social justice work is impressive and we’re fortunate to have her in the CASC minor program,” said Alice Mishkin, MSW ’13, CASC program coordinator.
Yahya is currently working for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the largest Arab American grassroots organization committed to protecting civil rights, promoting mutual understanding, and preserving the Arab American cultural heritage.
This summer Yahya will be conducting research on the educational system in Yemen and studying advanced Arabic.
“I love my CASC classes and I couldn’t do all of this without the help of scholarships, which allow me to complete my degree and continue to do community outreach,” Yahya said.
She has a variety of scholarships including KFC Colonel Scholar; Skillman Foundation Scholar GE-Ronald Reagan Scholar; Comcast Leaders and Achiever; Detroit Rotary Club Youth Citizen; WXYZ Brightest and Best Graduate and the ChadseyCondon Community Scholar.
Yahya has aspirations to eventually go to law school.
“There’s a lot of power and skills I’m gaining now to make change,” she said. “I’ll always be a community organizer and the CASC program is a great build toward applying that with the application of law.”