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Our Sector Lead recently had a chat with Olif Soboka Hordofa, an ALA alum who will be graduating from Tufts university later this week to understand his journey after leaving the academy. Here are snapshots of that conversation where he talked about his upbringing, his life at the university and what lies ahead of him.
Briefly introduce yourself and how your upbringing has contributed to you becoming who you are today.
My name is Olif Soboka Hordofa. I was born and raised in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. I completed my high school education at the African Leadership Academy in 2018. After ALA, I moved to the U.S. to pursue two undergraduate degrees at Tufts University in Massachusetts. I majored in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics and will be graduating in May 2022 with high honors.
I was brought up in a family of 5. My parents have always been supportive with my endeavours of self-discovery. My father has always pushed me to dream bigger and reach higher; to never give up and that process and journey are more important than end goal. Having been raised with that mentality, I enjoy every challenge and believe in hard work.
What inspired your choice to study Mechanical Engineering?
My father owned a set of beard trimmers that my cousin mistakenly dropped while cleaning his dresser and thus stopped working. He didn’t think it was worth paying for to have it fixed by a handyman. He called me one afternoon as he was heading to a barbershop and said to me, “By the time I come back, if you fix the clipper, I would buy you your favourite pastry from the pastry shop in front of our house.’’ Lured by the offer, I collected the small collection of screw drivers that we had at home and started working on it. After connecting some lose wires and pressing down on components, I got the trimmer to turn on. I hurried to close it up and get it charged up to demonstrate that it worked to my father. Yeah, I got my beloved pastry. That was the birth of my interest in the mechanical work field.
Coming to college, hearing about the broadness of the field and how it taps into various other fields of interest to me while bringing together my two favourite courses in high school, physics and mathematics, I committed to pursuing the field.
You recently received the Tufts Senior Award alongside 11 other graduating seniors. Can you tell us about it and what it means to you?
Each year since 1955, the Tufts University Alumni Association (TUAA) has recognized six to 12 members of the Senior Class for their academic achievement (3.0+ GPA)*, campus and community participation, and outstanding leadership.
For the details of my involvements on the Tufts campus please refer to this short bio on the website of the award committee. I have also been able to maintain a perfect GPA all through the 4 years in both majors.
Getting the recognition for the work I have done on the campus and my hard work; was a demonstration of the impact I have had on the school and its community. It is a recognition that I share with many who have stood with me and helped in shaping me.
What are your career aspirations after graduation?
After school, I will be joining Applied Materials, a leading semiconductor producer in the world as a full-time Mechanical Engineer. Having interned in the company in the summer of 2021, I believe it is a great place for me to transition into the industry and discover more about myself. I plan to go back to the university to pursue my PhD in Mechanical Engineering in the near future.
You have mentioned that you will be working at Applied Materials, where do you see yourself after that? Do you want to build your career abroad or are you looking at coming to Africa someday?
I have a strong desire to contribute towards the growth of the African continent and would like to come back and use my knowledge and skills to make that happen after obtaining my PhD. As an African without much privileges growing up, I believe coming back to build the continent will have a direct effect in helping other young people without privilege.
How has the African Leadership Academy experience shaped your academic and professional growth?
ALA sharpened me, made me wiser and confident. Whenever asked this question by anyone who hears about my alma mater my answer has been the same. I share a very memorable experience I had while at ALA. One of the most rewarding and memorable experiences for me was in Entrepreneurship Leadership class. We got to reflect on our values, ethics and morals to determine our top 5 values. Although over the years some have changed or made room for others in the top 5 list, my list consist of Altruism, Compassion, Humility, Empathy and Perseverance. Anyone who knows me and shares these values together with me, will know how ALA then shaped me in becoming the person I am today both academically and professionally.
What is your advice for young African scholars who are joining other academic institutions abroad right now?
The advice I will give young African scholars is that ‘No matter how hard things seem, DARE TO TRY!’ If there is anything I have learnt as an international student in a US college it is that nothing comes to you unless you go seek for them and try to grasp them. Most things seem out of place, different and hard but you wouldn’t really know until to you dare to try to grasp them. I dared to be a double major in two intense STEM fields, I made it! I made