Tedros Birhane: Building An American
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.
will receive his masters degree from the University of Virginias
McIntire School of Commerce
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.
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.
thought that the best opportunity for my children would be in the
United States, where they could grow up in a free society," Birhane
Catholic charity in Memphis, Tenn., sponsored the Coptic Orthodox
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.
Arlington, Birhane worked as a shoe sales clerk for the Marine Corps
Exchange at the Navy Annex in Arlington. He soon transferred to
the exchanges 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.
1986, he joined the Arlington County Community Action Program, working
there eight years, and moving in 1994 to Arlington Countys
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.
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.
wanting more education, Birhane, 46, enrolled in the McIntire Schools
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.
has found U.Va.s McIntire program, which emphasizes the practical
over the theoretical, quite worthwhile.
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."
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.
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.
have been fortunate, my wife and I, and I would like to give something
back," Birhane said. "Its possible Ill spend my retirement
doing that, going back and forth between the United States and Eritrea."
Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858