Creating change

Abdul and Alicia Yahaya took turns tending to their young son, already in his Wildcat purple; their business, Open Minds Child Development Center; and preparations for their niece’s art exhibition, which was scheduled to follow our interview. As they wove their conversation around why they give to K-State, it was clear the Yahayas work as a team. Abdul, an ’08 graduate from the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering, and Alicia, a KU grad, share a commitment to community and K-State and a motivation to “seek what is in the best interest of something bigger than ourselves.”

Before Abdul graduated from K-State, he actively supported development of K-State’s Multicultural Student Center as a student leader and chair of the Big 12 Council on Black Student Government. Abdul now serves on the K-State Alumni Association’s Multicultural Alumni Council, and they are excited to see the work draw to completion and a place to build community take shape.

“K-State opened me to leadership opportunities,” said Abdul. “People like Pat Bosco and Dr. Myra Gordon were mentors. They challenged me to speak when I had a concern and to walk into myself. To break the mold. Brandon Clark coached me to meet with a university president — an experience that taught me to be financially, socially and critically responsible.” He credits these K-State experiences with how he navigates his professional life today.

And though Abdul emphasized that the multicultural community was available while he was at K-State and before the center was built, he is thoughtful about how influential it would have been to have a place on campus where he could be 100% himself. He believes that such a place would have fostered important connections, conversations to challenge him, free him from limiting assumptions, even confirm that he could wear his hair long and still be an engineer.

Alicia agreed and said that a built center would have provided “a place to help us transition into a world we were not prepared to navigate, nor were our parents. We are steered to be respectable, honorable, to not draw attention to ourselves and to get a good career. We want to offer (them) the freedom to dream differently than many of us have been taught to dream.”

Both Abdul and Alicia mentioned how important it is for students to have an established community where they can explore social norms that many K-Staters take for granted. As he has changed careers and experienced greater diversity within cultures, Abdul has discovered the confidence to express himself and wants to help all K-Staters to enjoy that freedom.

“As an engineer and entrepreneur, I know now that I don’t have to look like the person next to me,” said Abdul. “I can be myself. But when I was at K-State, I felt like I needed to follow what an engineer looked like in my classes.”

Abdul hopes that the new Multicultural Student Center will foster a community where students feel free to be themselves. “When my kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews attend K-State, if they do, they will benefit from that freedom to be themselves that is beginning in the Multicultural Student Center,” said Alicia. “They will already have a forward motion we did not yet have. They will have the freedom to pursue their truth. Their dreams.”

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Mallory Billings

Mallory Billings Senior Development Officer - Engineering


Jenna Brown

Jenna Brown Senior Director of Development - Engineering