Outstanding Degree Student Conquers Cruelty With Compassion

Human Service Associate graduate an outspoken advocate for refugees around the world

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

December 08, 2023

Hasnah Hussin

The support I got a MATC was big. You are not on your own. The advising team was great. The virtual team was great. They were always there when I needed any help.

Hasnah Hussin Human Service Associate Graduate and Fall 2023 Outstanding Degree Student

Almost every day, Hasnah Hussin and her family confronted injustice, intolerance, hostility and persecution, but she never gave in to the hate.

“In my religion, it’s not OK to continue to be angry, to be vengeful, to have an overwhelming negativity,” said Hasnah, who is Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted in the world. 

She resolutely resisted all of that hate with learning, kindness, care and compassion, bolstered by her fervent devotion to her faith and her deep love for her mother. 

“My mother never allowed me to be negative about the world,” said Hasnah, who will be one of more than 700 students to graduate from the Milwaukee Area Technical College 2023 Fall class. 

See WTMJ TV story on Hasnah

Hasnah, who earned an associate degree in the college’s Human Service Associate program, will share her experiences as a refugee and advocate during Winter Commencement on December 10 at Fiserv Forum. Because of her academic achievements and community involvement, she was selected as the college’s Outstanding Graduate – Associate Degree for Fall 2023. 

“Her stories and struggles echo well for refugees, single mothers, working mothers, students of color, and women of color who are working hard every day for the education at MATC,” said Der Vang, a student advisor with MATC’s Multicultural Student Services. “What an inspiration.”

See photos from MATC’s Academic Honors ceremony

Hasnah, who was born and grew up in Malaysia, started working with refugee groups when she was a teenager and has become a relentless, outspoken advocate for refugees around the world.

“She has been doing human services work since she was 15 years old,” said Mohammad Dakwar, Ed.D., the college’s vice president of learning. “What she has accomplished already is so impressive.”

A challenging childhood

Hasnah’s parents were among the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a stateless ethnic group primarily in western Myanmar, who fled the country to escape violence.

The family settled in Malaysia as refugees. Hussin’s father helped construct the Petronas Twin Towers, an interlinked pair of 88-story skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur. Standing 1,483 feet, the structures were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. Despite his contribution to this landmark, he was arrested for being an undocumented refugee and sold to a fisherman in Taiwan.

Her mother worked as a domestic in three houses during the day and in a bakery at night to support the family.

As a young girl, Hasnah was mocked and ridiculed at school, but she persevered. She played sports and did well in school. She completed her high school studies in 2009.

From refugee to advocate

Hussin worked as a researcher, case worker and human rights project training officer with a nonprofit organization in Malaysia. She became an expert in issues affecting refugee children and the mental health of women refugees. In March 2020, she delivered a TED talk in Malaysia about the refugee crisis. https://www.ted.com/talks/hasnah_hussin_forgotten_generation_children_in_limbo

Hasnah, who speaks seven languages and is learning two more, also worked as a medical interpreter. In 2021, Hussin, her young daughter and her parents came to Milwaukee, believed to be home to the largest population of Rohingya refugees in the United States. She took a job with Catholic Charities Milwaukee as refugee education developer for the organization's citizenship program. 

Coming to MATC

Seeking to further her education, Hasnah enrolled at MATC. A work colleague recommended the college to her. 

“Knowledge never ends,” she said. “Concerns change, issues change. Learning is all about strengthening my skills so that I can help people even more.

“The support I got a MATC was big,” she added. “You are not on your own. The advising team was great. The virtual team was great. They were always there when I needed any help. I always encourage people I talk to to start at MATC before going anywhere else. At MATC, you are empowered.”

With her MATC degree in hand, Hasnah plans to attend Alverno College and get a bachelor’s degree in social work. Down the road she might get a master’s degree and a doctorate. 

Her goal is to be a human service provider and work as a licensed counselor to support communities, particularly people in Asian communities who have little understanding of mental health and how services can help them.

“Social work is gigantic,” she said. “The greatest part is that I will always be able to go places where I can help.”

Learn about MATC’s Human Service Associate program

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.