Winona State University graduate student Regina Mustafa has played an active part in spreading cultural awareness throughout Minnesota. Her passion and dedication to the cause have earned her several awards, including the Rising Champion of Justice award from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Champion of Diversity award from the Diversity Council of Rochester, and the Mayor’s Medal of Honor from Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede.

“I believe my work has broken down barriers and enabled the formation of relationships between diverse communities,” said Mustafa, who has served as an interfaith dialogue advocate in Southeast Minnesota for over three years.

In 2016, Mustafa learned of WSU’s Multicultural Education Certificate program (MECP) from Dr. Nicholas Wysocki, as Assistant Professor in the WSU College of Education. The one-year program provides the opportunity for students to conduct research related to multicultural education and to explore issues of equality for members of diverse communities.

“The Multicultural Education graduate certificate embodies the mission of WSU, to build economic, social, and cultural vitality,” she said. “Once he told me about the program I knew I had to be a part of it. I knew it would further enhance the community work I had been doing in Southeast Minnesota for years.”

Mustafa’s work in the MECP focused on better understanding and serving the Somali-Muslim community in Rochester, the largest Muslim community in the state. Her research explored the impact of the dominant culture specific to Somali-Muslim women living in Rochester with regards to their career choices, social activities, extracurricular activities, and current job choices.

After completing the MECP, Mustafa decide to further her education at WSU by pursuing a master’s degree in Human Services (Professional Development). The Philadelphia, Pa., native is on track to graduate in fall 2018.

“My favorite part of my WSU experience is the fact that what I have learned and am currently studying is immediately impacting my community work by enhancing my skills,” said Mustafa. “With my current courses, I have seen firsthand the commitment to social justice and advocacy of undeserved members of our community. My professors further my ability to serve the Muslim community in Rochester and beyond.”

In addition to passionate faculty members, relevant coursework, and an inspiring peer group, WSU also offered a strong culture of inclusivity and accessibility, she added. Mustafa, who is legally blind, had felt stymied in previous attempts to pursue her master’s degree at other institutions.

“I felt my visual impairment was not being accommodated, and my concerns were not heard,” she said.

But from day one WSU has been committed to her success, said Mustafa, from the flexible course schedules that accommodate her community work and her busy schedule as a wife and mother of two young children, to the assistive technology that allows her to access materials online and enlarge them on her laptop to accommodate her visual impairment.

“Professors not only went out of their way to ensure my needs were met, but they also made me feel my experiences as a person with a disability were valued and needed for my classmates,” said Mustafa. “My unique life experiences were valued from the get-go. I know my disability is not a detriment, but an asset.”

For Mustafa, Winona State has been a place to reaffirm and refine her passion for social justice, interfaith dialogue and multicultural education. After earning her master’s degree, she intends to give back to WSU by continuing to be an example of its high standards of excellence and setting a positive example for the next generation.

“These experiences have set me on a path for continuing my current community work and pursing a future in elected office,” said Mustafa. “My life’s passion is to build understanding and acceptance among our faith communities.”