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Dr. Christa Slejko, president of North Lake College (left) with Kramp recipient Pascal Bakari

​Contact: Ann Hatch

For immediate release — Sept. 14, 2018

(DALLAS) — Four Dallas County Community College District students know what it’s like to leave their homeland — Burundi, Ivory Coast, South Korea/the Philippines, Venezuela — and come to the United States without family, friends or resources. Yet each of those students — Pascal Bakari, Sohyun Jun, Hadja Kone and Carlos Valbuena — understands that getting an education, in spite of the obstacles they’ve faced, will enable them to start new lives and careers that will help them fulfill their dreams.

  • Bakari, who lost his father at age 10, fought a custody battle with his mother and finally moved out on his own at age 16; he attends North Lake College and plans to become an industrial designer.
  • Jun witnessed the breakdown of her family after bankruptcy, alcoholism and abuse led to her parents’ divorce and her move at age 13 from South Korea to a boarding school in the Philippines and, finally, to the U.S., where she is a student at Brookhaven College.
  • Kone, who also saw her father’s business go bankrupt, lost her dad at an early age and watched her mother struggle to raise the family. Later, when the family was homeless and suffered through Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2011, Kone’s brother sent her to the United States to continue her education; she now attends Brookhaven College.
  • Fleeing hyperinflation, high crime rates and corruption in his native country of Venezuela, Valbuena left everything behind so that he could migrate to the U.S. He arrived in Dallas in late 2015, seeking political asylum. Valbuena is pursuing a degree in civil engineering at Brookhaven College.

All four students were recognized as the 2018-2019 recipients of the Dallas County Community College District’s Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Scholarship during a special awards dinner on Sept. 12, 2018.

The scholarship, which is administered by the DCCCD Foundation, will help Bakari, Jun and Valbuena reach for their dreams with financial support, special enrichment programming and mentoring from the Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Foundation scholarship award, which covers full tuition and books for up to six semesters. Kone also received the Erin Tierney Kramp Honors Transfer Scholarship and will attend Southern Methodist University, starting this fall.

Courage and Perseverance Are Honored

The courage and perseverance shown by both students in the face of adversity are traits exhibited by the person for whom the Kramp Foundation and scholarship is named. Erin Tierney Kramp, who fought breast cancer from 1994 to 1998, created a videotaped legacy on “life lessons” for her daughter, Peyton, prior to her death. The videotapes became tools that conveyed Erin’s views and advice to Peyton as the young girl grew up, following her mother’s death.

Erin touched many lives and inspired countless strangers when she co-authored “Living With the End in Mind” (written with her husband and a family friend) and through appearances on programs like “20/20” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Winfrey featured the Kramp story/segment as one of her “most memorable guests” during a May 2011 farewell show as the program reached its historic end. Erin’s legacy lives on through the Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Foundation, its scholarship program and the lives of all of its recipients.

“The Erin Tierney Kramp program awards scholarships to students based on their courage and perseverance in the face of adversity,” said Michael Brown, president of the Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Foundation. “These new recipients all have demonstrated these qualities throughout their lives, and they will be wonderful additions to the Kramp family of past recipients.”

Brown added, “Their stories exemplify what all of our past recipients have demonstrated since the inception of the scholarship. When individuals face tremendous adversity, the struggles they endure will either make them stronger or defeat them. Winning that battle requires both courage and perseverance — traits possessed by all of our former recipients and certainly these new recipients as well.”

Pascal Bakari: New Country, New Culture, New Family, Bright Career

North Lake College student Pascal Bakari grew up with two parents from different worlds. His father was born in Burundi, and his mother was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. His parents later separated and moved him from New York to Burundi, one of Africa’s poorest countries, where he learned to speak French, Swahili and Kirundi. Burundi, as a country, is dealing with economic and political disparities, which gave Bakari the opportunity to learn about diversity.

Learning became Bakari’s passion, and he moved back to the U.S. at age 10 to live with his father in Brooklyn, where he began to learn English, adapted to American culture and discovered his passion for design. After losing his father to cancer, Pascal went to live with his mother in Virginia and eventually had to deal with an abusive situation. He graduated from high school in 2016 and then moved to Texas, where he enrolled at North Lake College a year later.

“Even through hardship and adversity, I was still able to find my purpose and passion for industrial design,” said Bakari, who expects to graduate from North Lake in 2019 and then transfer to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. “I know that my journey has only begun, and I expect to face more challenges in the future. But I am ready now, more than ever, to overcome those challenges.”

At North Lake, Bakari has worked as an assistant graphic designer in the college’s marketing department; he also has earned awards for his designs entered in a North Lake College art show. Bakari started his own freelance design business and currently serves as an officer in the academic honorary Phi Theta Kappa.

(left to right): Carlos Valbuena, Dr. Thom Chesney (president of Brookhaven College), Sohyun Jun and Hadja Kone

Sohyun Jun: Half a World Away From Home

Sohyun Jun started her journey as a youngster when unfortunate family circumstances prompted her mother to send her from South Korea to the Philippines, where she could attend boarding school, which was more affordable. After her father lost his pharmacy business and was unable to support his family, he turned to alcohol and became abusive. Jun’s mother had no choice but to leave her father; she struggled as a single parent with money problems and depression.

At her boarding school in the Philippines, Jun made the best of a bad situation, even as her mother struggled with severe depression. Thanks to encouragement from her teachers — especially Moses Lee, her grandmother and fellow students, she worked hard in school, was named to the honor roll and served as president of the Student Council. Jun then decided that she needed to continue her education in the U.S., where she studied diligently to earn a 4.0 grade point average and was listed on the President’s Honor Roll at Brookhaven.

“With courage and perseverance — although everything was challenging — I have been persistently climbing the mountain called life with all of my strength,” said Jun. “I realized that no matter how big the wave is, if I pull the anchor, the voyage goes on. Learning how to confront and deal with adversities became an invaluable lesson for me.”

Jun also has learned the value of networking and the importance of building good relationships with others. As a result, she is fascinated by the business world and wants to pursue a career in international business — and eventually to work at the United Nations or the World Trade Organization

Hadja Kone: Poverty, Civil War Couldn’t Stop Her Dreams

The daughter of a once-successful Kola nuts trader from the Ivory Coast, Hadja Kone lost her father at the age of five and began to work at age seven to help pay for her education so that she could continue to go to school and study electricity. In spite of the efforts of her siblings to help their mom, the family eventually was evicted from their home and sought shelter in a mosque for many months until they could afford rent for a small apartment.

Kone’s family once again faced challenges in 2011 when civil war shattered their dreams. They decided it was time for Kone to go to the United States to continue her studies, supported financially by one of her brothers. Hadja was determined to succeed in school and earn enough resources to help her mother and siblings back home, too. She learned English at Brookhaven College over the course of two semesters, scored high on mathematics tests and works as a tutor in the Math Lab — now Brookhaven’s STEM Resource Center.

Kone, who is majoring in computer science and engineering, believes “that new technologies are excellent tools to change the world.” She was involved in the Phi Theta Kappa academic honorary, the college’s Student Leadership Institute, the African Club, International Club and DCCCD STEM League. Kone applied for and received the Erin Tierney Kramp Honors Transfer Scholarship and began attending Southern Methodist University this fall.

Kone also wants to pursue an internship and work as a hardware engineer for a technology company such as Google, Apple or IBM that would help her expand technological innovations in many African countries. She also plans to earn a graduate degree in management from Southern Methodist University, teach as an adjunct faculty member and eventually start her own company in Ivory Coast. Kone agrees with Oprah Winfrey: “If you give a chance to a woman to have an education, you are not only changing the woman’s life, but also are changing the entire world.”

Carlos Valbuena: Political Asylum Brought Family to U.S. for a Better Life

Leaving behind Angel Falls and the lush lands of Venezuela — a country trapped in poverty and corruption, Carlos Valbuena and his family decided to leave the chaos of their homeland and move to the United States for a better life. Without enough education and knowledge of the English language, they were limited to jobs at fast-food restaurants, factories and car washes to make ends meet and adjust to life in Dallas as immigrants.

In spite of those challenges, Valbuena had heard that a community college would be the best way for him to start his college education in America. He enrolled at Brookhaven College because it was affordable and close to home. Since the spring of 2015, when he started classes there, he hasn’t looked back. He learned English through ESOL classes, started his credit courses, gained confidence, made friends and found a job on campus. “This hard transition helped me to become the student leader I am today,” he said.

Valbuena serves as president of Region II of the Texas Junior College Student Government Association; president of his college chapter of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society (an academic honorary for two-year colleges); student orientation leader; and vice president of Brookhaven’s student body. He also was involved with Brookhaven’s All-College Council and International Club. Valbuena has worked on a PTK research project to study the homeless issue in Dallas and is an honors student as well.

Valbuena plans to pursue a career in civil engineering by earning his bachelor’s degree in that field and eventually a master’s degree. He wants to become a project manager or director for an international development organization such as the United Nations Office for Project Services or the Inter-American Development Bank. He said, “Brookhaven College completely changed my life for the better, shaping me into the strong leader and scholar I am today. Without Brookhaven, I could probably still be working in fast-food restaurants, factories or car washes, far away from my academic and career dreams.”

For more information, contact Kathye Hammontree in the DCCCD Foundation office by phone at 214-378-1536 or by email at

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