Taha, now 26 and a resident of La Mesa, is one of only 20 to receive the All-USA Community College Academic Team honor, which comes with a $5,000 scholarship and is presented by Follett Higher Education Group. The awards were presented at the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society’s Presidents Breakfast during the American Association of Community Colleges Convention in San Antonio on Monday, April 20th. Mesa College President Pamela Luster joined Sarah as she accepted the award.
The PTK awards program – considered one of the most prestigious in the country – is designed to recognize two-year college students from across the USA who display an outstanding combination of academic achievement and community service. The team of 20 was selected by a panel of judges from more than 1,700 students nominated by more than 1,000 community colleges.
“Sarah is a perfect example of the power of resilience and humility,” said Dr. Pamela Luster, president, who was with Sarah in San Antonio when she received her award. “She is a model of Mesa College students who succeed despite adversity and who challenge themselves to excel.”
On April 14, Taha and fellow Mesa student Judith Jaime, were named by the California Commission for Community Colleges to the PTK All-California Academic team members. As the top scorer in the State, Taha earned a $2,000 award as the 2014 Coca-Cola New Century Scholar for California. She also received the prestigious $5,000 PTK Guistwhite Scholarship Award.
This Friday, April 24th, at the Mesa College Scholarship Awards, Sarah is expected to receive several more scholarships, including the $2,500 President’s Academic Excellence and Service Award.
Taha was a senior in high school in November of 2006, when her father was shot and killed by terrorists as punishment for allowing her two brothers to work as interpreters with the U.S. forces. Her family was displaced; her education came to a halt. She went into a deep depression. Eventually, the family found their way to America through a special immigration visa, and Sarah found her way to Mesa.
“The community college experience can best be described as my ship to salvation,” wrote Taha in her application. “It was my first glimpse of hope and my first step towards my next life. I used to view education in the United States as unattainable but I would eventually get it. I overcame the death of my father and war in Iraq. Once I’ve done that, I can do anything.”
Taha graduates this May as a valedictorian, with a perfect GPA of 4.0. Following graduation from Mesa, she will pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with hopes to achieve her Doctorate in Accounting and help those who are in the situation she was able to escape. She wants to become a social entrepreneur, and already has ideas for an international enterprise that imports tea grown in Iraq and other Persian Gulf countries to help bolster those communities. Locally, she has volunteered to raise funds and awareness of the hungry and shelter-deprived.
This is the second year in a row a Mesa College student was named the top community college student in California. Sarah Farmer, a psychology major at UCLA, was California’s 2014 New Century Scholar.
San Diego Mesa College serves approximately 25,000 students annually and offers more than 195 degree and certificate programs. It is one of three colleges in the San Diego Community College District which serves approximately 100,000 students annually through City, Mesa and Miramar colleges and San Diego Continuing Education. For more information, visit sdmesa.edu.