Researching a dream

By Brian Koonz, MS '20, Photo by Autumn Driscoll August 24, 2022

Dagmawi Bogale wears a lab coat and works with lab equipment

As a boy growing up in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Dagmawi Bogale ’22, MHS ’23, dreamed of becoming a scientist.

“I remember in the 10th grade, I wanted to do research so bad,” said Bogale, a 4+1 dual-degree student in the biomedical sciences program. “I remember watching YouTube and saving up to buy my own laboratory equipment.”

A microscope, slides, Petri dishes, the future Sawhney Leadership Fellow had it all figured out.

Bogale is part of the inaugural class of 21 Sawhney Leadership Fellows at Quinnipiac. The Sawhney Leadership Program, funded by a family gift in honor of the late Shiv L. Sawhney, a beloved professor of management at QU, aims to expand leadership development and corporate immersion opportunities for historically underrepresented students in higher education.

But Bogale wasn’t the only one with a dream. His three older sisters had a dream, too. “They had a dream for me to study abroad,” said Bogale, a first-generation college student. “They started ingraining that in my head when I was 9 or 10 years old.”

While his sisters worked to help provide for the family, Bogale thrived in the classroom and studied for the national exams, one in 10th grade and another in 12th grade. Unlike the SAT and the ACT in the United States, the national exams funneled students into occupations.

Bogale couldn’t simply decide to become a scientist. He needed to score well on his national exams. The pressure to distinguish himself among his peers, the pressure to wear a white lab coat someday, only increased the degree of difficulty.

And the urgency.

“The teachers had a hard time walking into the class because there were so many students,” he said. “We had to sit with two students in one seat. It was very crowded, but schools back home are very big.”

Back then, Bogale never gave much thought to studying in the United States. His sisters always filled the pages of a dream with a college education in England — even if it was like trying to grab a handful of mist.

Like many families in Addis Ababa, higher education exceeded their means, but never their imagination. His parents always worked hard. His father built a successful auto parts business and his mother owned two hair salons, although all three ventures were later seized by the government, Bogale said. During his pivotal sophomore year in high school, Bogale's father died. His sisters paid the family's bills working as writers, tutors and translators.

When Quinnipiac reached out to Bogale from 7,000 miles away in the U.S., he connected with admissions and financial aid counselors to discuss studying at the School of Health Sciences and how to pay for his college education. It was understood, even then, that Bogale wouldn't see his family for the next five years.

Plane tickets were never part of this complex equation, but they were definitely part of the sacrifice. Suddenly, Bogale’s dream — his family’s dream, really — became the currency of hope: His sisters pooled their savings to pay for nearly half of his tuition.

“My sisters, my pops and my mom were always entrepreneurs,” Bogale said. “Due to financial restraints and heavy responsibilities, my sisters never got the chance to finish school. That kills me every time I think about it. They couldn’t finish their education and get their diplomas, but they all sacrificed for me so I could get my diploma and go to college. They never gave up.”

Neither has Bogale. Every day is another chance to make a difference and pay it forward.

Bogale is the director of diversity and inclusion for the International Students Association and a mentor with the Quinnipiac University Enriching Student Transitions program to help incoming underrepresented students. He’s also a resident assistant at Quinnipiac and a member of the QU Advancing Diversity in Science program.

Despite these commitments, Bogale’s focus on academics and research hasn’t changed since he arrived in 2018.

“The whole biomedical sciences department at Quinnipiac knew I was interested in research,” Bogale said. “I think they saw it in my eyes. I think they saw, ‘Yeah, he definitely wants to do this,’ so they kept giving me opportunities to learn more. I’m very grateful for their help. I’m very grateful for everything here.”

After earning his undergraduate degree in May, Bogale can’t wait for Commencement next spring, a graduate ceremony five years in the making. He’s been saving to help pay for those plane tickets from Ethiopia. The dream doesn’t just belong to him, Bogale understands.

“This is for all of us, my whole family,” he smiles, his eyes moist with gratitude, a reminder that his late father won’t be seated on the Quad that day. “I’ve had so many blessings in my life. I want my family to start focusing on themselves now. They’ve always focused on me. I wouldn’t have gotten through all this without knowing my family was always saying, ‘We trust you. We love you.’ That means everything to me. It’s kept me going.”

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