LEWISTON – The first graduate of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College master’s program in leadership studies embodies one of the program’s stated goals of developing “effective, ethical leadership in organizations and communities in the context of globalization.”

Ismail Ahmed, a Somali immigrant, spent years in a Kenyan camp teaching himself English and Swahili. He also cared for his mother and siblings, and later, his own wife and children, always seeking ways for each family member to move forward in their lives regardless of the hardships they had suffered.

Ismail came to Lewiston in December of 2001 shortly after arriving in Maine from Atlanta where he first had been relocated by refugee assistance.

In the spring of 2002, Ismail, a graduate of the Afogei School of Education at Somali National University in Mogadishu, enrolled in the adult education program to get a feel for college life as an adult. He devoted a year to undergraduate courses in the leadership and organizational studies program so that he could strengthen his English and refocus his career objectives.

Described by a faculty member as a “fascinating and learned man of great modesty and courage,” Ismail wasted little time in focusing his energies on helping members of the campus and greater community bridge cultural divides.

In addition to his graduate studies, Ismail joined Toastmaster International and the Lewiston Rotary Club; co-founded the International Student Organization of Lewiston-Auburn; created an education series on Africa; became a founding member of Lewiston’s United Communities Coalition; was named recipient of USM’s student award for outstanding contributions to student diversity; and led ISOLA in 2004 when it was named that year’s outstanding student organization.

Despite his campus workload, community activities and hardships experienced as an immigrant, Ismail is noted for a great sense of humor and a warm, outgoing personality.

“When you first meet Ismail,” wrote a member of the LAC campus community, “you can’t help but smile. His friendly nature has made stopping by Room 169, where the International Students’ Organization of Lewiston-Auburn is found, part of many peoples’ routine.”

Ismail plans to apply to doctoral programs, perhaps in educational leadership or related fields, at Antioch, Harvard, and Brandeis. Those schools, in particular, will allow him to live in his adopted hometown of Lewiston and commute to campus one to two times a month.

“There are a lot of opportunities for me,” said Ismail, “but first and foremost is the opportunity to stay in this community and give back.”

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