International student from campus ‘inspired’ by black leadership conference

Four students from Penn State New Kensington attended the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education, Nov. 2-4, in Lancaster, Pa. Junior Hanna McBean, sophomores Jevon Hankins and Samantha Muhhuku, and freshman Sandra Muhhuku participated in the three-day event.

“Developing the Enthusiasm, Courage and Passion to Lead” was the theme of the conference, which helps students develop leadership skills in addition to pursing their educational and career goals. A series of concurrent workshops and keynote speakers provided the students with learning and networking opportunities.

“The speakers spoke from personal experiences, which made the message a lot more meaningful,” said Sandra Muhhuku, a petroleum engineering major. “I left the conference a better person, inspired and motivated with passion and enthusiasm to lead.”

McBean, an adult learner in the Organizational Leadership program, was a third-year participant and former honoree at the conference. Last year, McBean was recognized as a recipient of the Outstanding Student award and a K. Leroy Irvis undergraduate scholarship. This year, McBean, who lives in New Kensington with her husband and their six children, sang a cappella the song “Brotha" by Angie Stone. Hankins made his second trip to the conference.

Sandra Muhhuku was a first-time participant, as was her sister Samantha, a student in the biomedical engineering technology (BET) program. The Muhhuku sisters, who hail from Uganda in East Africa, are two of 17 international students at the New Kensington campus.

The highlight of the conference for Sandra was listening to the array of guest speakers and meeting new people. More than 300 students from colleges and universities from across the commonwealth participated in the conference, which comprises professionals from the public and private sectors -- education, business, social services, law and government -- who are committed to improving and ensuring the education of blacks and other underrepresented groups at Pennsylvania colleges and universities.

“Most of the speakers chose topics that spoke to me and that are really vital for growing youth,” said Sandra, 19. “They used their personal experiences, and being where they used to be made us realize we too can get where they are.”

One such speaker was Michael Miller, U.S. Ambassador for Adult Education, who delivered the keynote address on the last day of the conference. A high school dropout and father by the age of 16, he turned his life around by obtaining a GED, graduating from Morehouse (Ga.) College and earning a doctorate in psychology from Johns Hopkins University.

“Dr. Miller said ‘Get up, stand up, stay up and don't you ever give up,’ and to me, that is what the conference was about,” said Muhhuku, who grew up in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. “I am really glad that the organizers of the conference realize how important some of these issues are, and they took time to talk about them.”

Imbued with an out-going personality, Muhhuku was not a passive attendee at the conference. While she was not in the audience for the lectures and workshops, she was on the stage for the talent show that was held in the evening on the second day. She recited "Miss Me,” a poem written by her friend Kamukama Merab. Muhhuku previously performed in Uganda at the national theater, as well as Nabisunsa Girls School, her high school. In addition to performing, she writes poetry. According to Muhhuku, poetry gives her a “chance to be myself.”

“Whenever I write I feel alive, and when I recite I don't have to worry about anything,” she said. “It's like I've stepped into a galaxy of stars and nothing really matters. “

The genesis of Muhhuku’s 7,400-mile journey from Kampla, home to 1.7 million residents, to the New Kensington campus in Upper Burrell, home to 2,300 residents, was Samantha, who enrolled last fall in the BET associate degree program. Samantha quickly found her comfort zone at the campus. She is on the board of the campus’ Student Government Association as Underclassmen Faculty Senate Representative. Samantha expects to graduate in May and to continue her stay in the United States for a period of time to gain the training and experience in the biomedical field before embarking on an engineering career in her native country.

Like her sister, Sandra didn’t take long to assimilate into college life. She is a member of the Multicultural Club and plays the recorder in the student jazz band. Sandra learned to play the flute-like instrument from her best friend, Ndagire Lydia. She also is athletic, playing basketball for her high school and running the Turkey Trot 5K at the campus.

Sandra describes her campus experience as “challenging, exciting, thrilling, adventurous, amazing and sad ... all in one awesome package.”

Besides missing her family, the most difficult part of campus life was adjusting to a new culture.

“Fitting in was a little hard with a different culture, different way of life, different food, the weather, and being away from my family and friends,” Sandra said. “I’m going from a world with so many friends to starting all over. It gets easier with time though.”

The sisters share a suite at the Nittany Highlands Apartments, the student residence hall located adjacent to the campus. They do many things together such as grocery shopping and window shopping. Except for a few minor details, Sandra enjoys the big sister-little sister relationship.

“Well, minus being called Sam in the hallways and people mixing us up, I think it’s great,” Sandra said with a laugh. “She helps me in every possible way. When she leaves the room before me, she'll text me telling me it's cold outside, and I should dress warm. She'll probably kill me when she reads this, but she is like my mummy.”

Sandra’s future plans include graduate school. Until then, she is concentrating on her academics and taking advantage of the personal attention she receives from campus faculty. With class sizes averaging about 25 students, working with faculty one-on-one is one of the perks of attending a small campus like Penn State New Kensington.

”The campus has an amazing faculty, and the professors are really great,” said Sandra. “For me it’s like the first step to living my future, and my future is now.”

International students are a growing segment of Penn State’s student population, and the New Kensington campus is doing its part in bringing in quality students from foreign countries. Uganda is one of the nine countries represented on campus this semester. The others are China, India, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan and Tanzania.

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country bordered by Kenya, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. It gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962, and English is the official language.

For more information of International Student Admissions, visit

For more about Samantha Muhhuku, visit

For more information about the Black Leadership Conference, contact Angie Fisher, 724-334-6062 or

For a virtual tour of the campus, visit

For more on admissions at Penn State New Kensington, visit

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Last Updated December 04, 2013