This is the first post in an occasional series on the Faces of Higher Education. These are the stories of students, faculty, and administrators within the United States Higher Education system. Each person will be presented through interviews, profiles, or stories.
So often when thinking about higher education we look at statistics, trends, and institutions, but rarely do we look at the people. The faces and stories within higher education often highlight the issues better than any chart or data set. Here’s one.
Ajmal Davi is a 29 year-old part-time student at Northern Virginia Community College studying to be a certified Cisco network technician. He is also a nighttime taxi driver with three small children. Ajmal is originally from Pakistan, but moved to the Washington DC area when he was 11. “I never want to live anywhere else,” he said, “DC is the center of the world.” Last week I flew into Washington Dulles Airport and caught a taxi. Ajmal was my driver. It was 11:30 pm and I was his first fare of the night. He told me that he drives all night 6 days a week and two days a week he takes classes at NOVA. He is able to take them either in the morning or early afternoon. He said the NOVA program is perfect for him, because it leads directly to a certification. “When you study economics,” he said, “you have to take classes in history and math. But with the Cisco program all of the classes have to do with the Cisco network, so I know that all of my classes count.”
During our 40 minute conversation, Ajmal told me how he has loved computers from a young age. They are his passion and now he wants to turn that passion into a career. Ajmal gives me a crash course on Cisco routers and his clarity and intensity give me the feeling that I am watching a how-to video on YouTube. “Networks are really incredible, beautiful even,” he says. He told me about how he recently bought a router and set up his entire apartment to function through a central hub. He showed me how on his iPhone he can turn on the television, turn off the bathroom light, and even check when his refrigerator was last opened.
The traditional part-time student is not “traditional” at all. The ability for an institution to cater to a student like Ajmal, who works at night and has a family, will be critical for The College of 2020. Northern Virginia Community College offers a program Ajmal is not only passionate about, but one that he can do on his own terms, on his own time, and that will lead directly to a new career. Ajmal seemed a bit anxious throughout our conversation and he eventually told me why. “Sorry,” he said, “I am very nervous. I have an interview tomorrow for a junior network engineer position at a government contractor.” At 29, Ajmal is following his dream.