Photo taken by Madison Vaughan ’19 of Vaughan Photography.
WASHINGTON, PA (March 16, 2021)—Tasha Mwanakalando ’20 is used to carving her own path.
When the first-generation college student suddenly was faced with online classes during her last semester at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) and entering the workforce amidst a global pandemic, she adapted, just as she’s always done. Tasha’s taken the past year to get work experience with nonprofit agencies AJAPO (Acculturation of Justice and Peace Organization) and Literacy Pittsburgh as she readies herself to pursue graduate school.
Tasha first became familiar with AJAPO—a resettlement organization dedicated to serving refugees and immigrants in the Pittsburgh area—through connections within the Zambian immigrant community, of which she is a member. For several months after graduation, she worked with AJAPO as a case manager for refugee clients adjusting to life in Pittsburgh before she transitioned to her current role with Literacy Pittsburgh as a Student Success Coordinator. In her new role, Tasha works with U.S. and foreign-born adult students to develop education plans that help them complete GED programs, learn or improve English skills, and more.
“I really love the nonprofit sector. It’s something I didn’t think I would be putting myself into,” Tasha said. “Having a direct impact in someone’s life is something I really value, and something I’m proud to be a part of.”
The work allows Tasha to build connections with people and understand more intimately the types of clients she wants to work with in the future as she pursues further education and plans to work as a leader in the human rights/non-profit sector. Her non-profit ambitions weren’t always on the forefront of her mind, though.
When Tasha arrived at W&J, she started on the pre-med track. She later discovered an interest in international studies and switched programs, eventually focusing on a major in political science and concentration in Conflict and Resolution Studies.
The freedom to explore her own interests with support from W&J faculty along with leadership opportunities allowed Tasha to flourish during her undergraduate education.
“I think W&J shaped me in a way I didn’t know it was going to. A lot of leadership roles forced me to be diligent about the things I was doing, the classes I was taking, and the clubs I was joining. It made me confident in the way I would present myself, and just in myself in general,” she said. “The professors in the political science department push you. They give you the materials you need to succeed and walk you through your next steps.”
Through her involvement with BSU, the Charles West Scholars, and as president of Kappa Kappa Gamma, Tasha was able to realize her full potential, even while navigating unfamiliar milestones as the first member of her immediate family to attend a U.S. college.
“Being first gen is definitely a journey. My mom only knows so much about the American school system, and I don’t have any older siblings to tell me about their experiences,” she said. “There were many mistakes I made, but I just had to move through and come out on the other side with so much more knowledge and confidence. Those four years at W&J shaped me into being better.”
For those who follow in her footsteps, Tasha wants to share that it’s not only okay—but encouraged—to ask for help. Even nearly a year removed from her undergraduate education, she’s still in frequent contact with her W&J advisor Dr. Susan Frenchik, who has helped her determine her best next steps as she pursues her career.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, proudly located in Washington, Pa., is a historic liberal arts college founded in 1781 that values ethical leadership, professional readiness, and inclusive communities. Our highly customized and intellectually engaging student experience develops professionals of uncommon integrity to lead in an ever-changing world. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.