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Tedros Birhane Tedros Birhane: Building An American Dream

May 1, 2001-- Tedros Birhane left his troubled homeland, Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa, in 1981 to seek a better life. He started college at the University of Addis-Ababa in Ethiopia, but after his sophomore year, war exploded between Eritrea and Ethiopia and forced him to leave the university.

Birhane will receive his master’s degree from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce in May.

Birhane traveled to nearby Khartoum, Sudan, where he took a job in the mailroom of the U.S. Embassy. He also started working as an interpreter for an American organization that taught English as a second language and provided a cultural orientation to Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees bound for the United States.

Birhane improved his English and soaked up information about America and, after a year, taught English and interpreted full time. Finally, in 1983, after weighing his options, Birhane emigrated to the United States with his family -- his wife, Akberet, son, Filmon, now 19, and nephew, Ghebrebirhan. His daughter, Sellam, 5, was born here.

"I thought that the best opportunity for my children would be in the United States, where they could grow up in a free society," Birhane said.

A Catholic charity in Memphis, Tenn., sponsored the Coptic Orthodox

Christian family for its first several months in this country. As soon as he could, Birhane found work in a furniture factory, at $3.35 an hour, staying for several months until he and his wife moved their family to Arlington, where more job opportunities beckoned.

In Arlington, Birhane worked as a shoe sales clerk for the Marine Corps Exchange at the Navy Annex in Arlington. He soon transferred to the exchange’s finance office as a part-time cashier. Birhane also found a second job as a full-time administrative assistant for Wood, Lucksinger and Epstein, a Washington law firm.

In 1986, he joined the Arlington County Community Action Program, working there eight years, and moving in 1994 to Arlington County’s finance department, where he worked another four years as a senior financial analyst. Three years ago, Mil Corp., an information technology consulting company based in Bowie, Md., hired him as a project manager.

As soon as he could, Birhane went back to school. He enrolled in evening classes at Northern Virginia Community College, earning an associate's degree (magna cum laude) in accounting in 1990. He then attended Strayer University, where he received a bachelor's degree (summa cum laude) with a major in accounting and a minor in computer information systems in 1992. The next year, he took the certified public accounting exam and received his CPA certificate in 1994.

Still wanting more education, Birhane, 46, enrolled in the McIntire School’s master's degree program in management information systems -- a one-year, part-time, executive-format program that depends heavily on computer networking and the use of online databases -- from which he will graduate this May. While his company reimburses a small amount of his educational expenses, Birhane is paying the lion's share of his education -- about $25,000 -- himself.

He has found U.Va.’s McIntire program, which emphasizes the practical over the theoretical, quite worthwhile.

"I get the value of the breadth of experience from my 44 classmates, who have spent anywhere from two to 25 years in different industries," Birhane said. "And the professors are well versed in their fields. They consult on the side, which keeps them up to date on developments in business, plus we're on the cutting edge in the technology we use and in our discussions. The school also brings in top speakers from leading companies to explain how they apply technology and business process improvement in their organizations."

Birhane said the program has bolstered his confidence in his business acumen, giving him an appreciation for the big picture and an awareness of what it takes to be successful. "My dream is one day to establish my own business, something my children can go into," Birhane said.

Along with establishing his own business, Birhane hopes to create a not-for-profit foundation through which he can help people in Eritrea connect economically with the rest of the world using advanced information technology. Birhane wants to use his business savvy and the power of the Internet to share his good fortune with the country of his birth.

"We have been fortunate, my wife and I, and I would like to give something back," Birhane said. "It’s possible I’ll spend my retirement doing that, going back and forth between the United States and Eritrea."

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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