Meet Solyana Tesfai, recipient of this year’s Association of Black Business Students Scholarship
Solyana Tesfai is an undergraduate student at the Foster School, majoring in marketing and interning with the lifestyle brand Jenni Kayne, with another internship lined up at Deloitte. She is a Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America scholar and a Management Leadership for Tomorrow career fellow. And she is the 2023 recipient of the Association of Black Business Students (ABBS) Scholarship, for which she will be honored at the 20th Celebration of African American Alumni Achievement on February 28, 2023. Kristin Anderson, Foster’s associate director of stakeholder communications and relations, sat down with Solyana ahead of the celebration to learn about her life and experiences.
KA: How did you get to where you are today?
ST: I was born in Asmara, Eritrea, and my family immigrated to Tukwila when I was a toddler. Tukwila is known for its diversity and immigrant population, but what most people don’t know is it’s an under-resourced community. I spent most of my middle and high school years advocating for opportunities and equitable resource distribution for my community.
At the University of Washington, that mission is still the core of what I hope to accomplish. I am gifted here with an opportunity to amplify my voice and bring these issues to light. There’s so much growth for America to work on, but also to look at communities like mine for that growth because there’s a pivotal population there that carries a community of dreams who are still fighting for basic educational resources.
Staying true to myself as I look forward to my career is important to me because it encourages the next person to do the same. I am acutely aware of this domino effect because of the influential women before me that have inspired my journey by simply daring to be themselves and creating opportunities special to them, regardless of the representation in the room.”
What kinds of advocacy work have done?
At Foster High School, I was the Black Student Union vice president, and a member of Teens for Tukwila and You Grow Girl. With Teens for Tukwila, I attended a week-long conference in Washington, DC, and visited the US Capitol building, met senator Patty Murray and advocated passing a law that eased the transitions of gentrification and better allocation of resources in Tukwila. At the UW and at the Foster School of Business, I am a part of this year’s cohort of Hovind Global Leadership Program scholars, where we learn to master global thinking and, in the process, become agents of this generation’s inclusive and global leaders.
As a Black person, how have your experiences navigating predominantly white institutions shaped your approach to your career?
Shonda Rhimes coined a term, “First, Only, Different,” that pretty much sums up my experiences. I often feel like I’m the first, only or different, but those experiences have also proven to me that this is my power and opportunity to bring people together. Staying true to myself as I look forward to my career is important to me because it encourages the next person to do the same. I am acutely aware of this domino effect because of the influential women before me that have inspired my journey by simply daring to be themselves and creating opportunities special to them, regardless of the representation in the room.
Why did you want to come to Foster?
As a junior in high school, I joined the Young Executives of Color (YEOC) Program. This program encourages students from underrepresented communities to come to the UW campus—including PACCAR Hall—and basically delve right into the curriculum of what being a Foster student would look like. I remember feeling so inspired by the CEOs, alumni and partners from EY that shared their encouraging stories of being first, only and different, and then using their life experiences to dominate powerful platforms.
What does receiving the ABBS scholarship mean to you?
Growing up a low-income student, money has always been at the forefront of the barriers I feel when I’m dreaming of my future. The ABBS Scholarship has allowed me to dream bigger by providing me with some financial stability this year. And being a recipient from my own community at Foster has encouraged me to continue amplifying my voice and to continue being an agent of change.
What advice would you give to your fellow and future Black students at Foster?
My advice is to know what you don’t like just as much as what you do like and enjoy. That’s a piece of advice my mentor gave me that’s been essential to my academic and career choices so far. Understanding what you don’t like will help you get closer to the defining intersection between your passions, your talents and your values—which will help bring to life goals you haven’t even dreamt possible yet.
What do you wish Black alumni knew about being a Foster student now?
I wish Black alumni knew that their efforts did not go in vain and that they have certainly contributed to my positive experience at the Foster School. My achievements are only possible because of their incessant spirit and tenacity. Clubs like [email protected], ABBS and more that took years of hard work and dedication to maintain have provided safe spaces for students like me to lean on today. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.
What is your wish for the Black community at Foster?
My wish for the Black community at Foster is to see more of us in our classes and our seminars. That means so much to our experience because it solidifies that our presence is purposeful and we are not an anomaly.
The Celebration of African Alumni Achievement is on February 28, 2023. To learn more about the event, the honorees and to register, click here.