Biruk “BK” Kassaw said he came to Pembroke because it reminded him of home.
Kassaw, who was elected president of UNC Pembroke’s Student Government Association (SGA) for 2014-15, was referring to the small rural community in Ethiopia, where he spent the first seven years of his life.
Kassaw’s first language is Amharic, but his impeccable English and outstanding communication skills are his most valuable asset. When asked how he won a close election last spring, his answer -“people.”
“I am a people person, and I am able to relate to different people,” Kassaw said. “My first two years at Pembroke, I was in many organizations, seven or eight. So, if I need help, I have friends in many places.”
A senior, Kassaw is an outstanding student, majoring in business management and finance with minors in international business and political science. He is spending the summer in Pembroke building his SGA leadership team, planning programs for next year and taking classes in both summer school sessions.
“I am building is diverse team who will be my bridge to the entire campus,” he said. “My platform is to listen. I have a lot of ideas, but there are 6,000 people here. I want them to tell me what they want -- what they are passionate about.
“I am also building relationships with campus administrators,” Kassaw said. He started at the top in July, when he was sworn into office as a member of the university’s board of trustees during the board retreat. “It is helpful to know administrators personally and to know what they are passionate about.”
Kassaw would build a stronger SGA. “I want to build personal relationships within the SGA itself,” he said. “I don’t want the only time we see each other to be at meetings. I want us to be comfortable together and have some fun.”
He would like the SGA to be professional when they are performing their official roles. “I’m a business major, so I’d like to see us dress professionally and turn cell phones off.”
Returning to the question of why he came to Pembroke, Kassaw said his family is from a small community Ethiopia, not too different from Pembroke. But there are other reasons.
“I needed to get out of the big city,” he said. “College life gives students freedom, but there is only so far I can go here when the Wal-Mart closes at 1l p.m. It keeps me in focus.”
Kassaw is the first male in his family to attend college. His goal to be a role model for his younger brother has been a smashing success. His little brother will attend Stanford University in the fall.
“My brother worries about A-minuses,” Kassaw said. “I like to be challenged, and I’m not afraid to fail. If you fail, at least you tried.”
Hard work is also part of Kassaw’s resume. He lists jobs as cashier and line cook. At UNCP, he has worked hard at being an engaged student. A past president of the campus chapter of the NAACP, he is a member of a fraternity, served on a two major campus-wide committees and volunteered with the Literacy Commons and with the Office of Civic and Community and Civic Engagement.
Looking past graduation, Kassaw said he would like to work on Wall Street, but his dreams are much bigger. He would transform Africa’s place in the world as president of a “united states” of Africa.
“Africa has the resources, but they are not being used well,” Kassaw said. “Africa is larger than North and South America, Australia and Greenland combined, but is looks much smaller on a map.”
For now, the Student Government Association will put Kassaw’s political skills to the test. Remember the name, BK Kassaw, he may be at the head of one of the most powerful nations on earth one day.