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Finding Your Voice

Ameha Teshome ’23 came to Santa Clara to learn about data science, but says he learned even more about community.
May 2, 2023
By Matt Morgan
Ameha Teshome sitting on the edge of the fountain on Palm Drive.
| Photo by Jim Gensheimer

Five years ago, Ameha Teshome ’23 would’ve called himself an introvert. Even in his native language of Amharic, he sometimes had a hard time gathering his thoughts. Often, after starting a conversation, Teshome would try to talk and simply freeze up.

Fortunately, socializing in Ethiopia was focused more on doing than talking. When Teshome would leave his house in Addis Ababa to see friends, he entered a sea of people and energy. There was no planning or scheduling involved, people simply walked around from shop to shop, ate at restaurants—just enjoyed each other’s company.

But when he moved to the United States as a high school senior, Teshome realized he had to make a change. The young people in California spoke fast and with his limited English skills, he had a hard time communicating. At De Anza College as a freshman, everyone seemed busy and he couldn’t find his niche.

“I was so quiet people would look at me like, ‘Is he all right?’” Teshome recalls. “That’s when I decided, this introvert thing is not going to work. I’ve got to become a more outgoing person.”

A visit to Santa Clara as a sophomore gave Teshome a hint about how that might happen. After receiving the first-ever Black Excellence Scholarship at Santa Clara, Teshome took a guided tour of his new academic home when the student ambassador told him Santa Clara students were some of the nicest people he would ever meet.

“I said ‘Okay, we'll see,’” Teshome remembers with a laugh. “Then I transferred here and everyone was just amazing. I would go up to them and talk and they were happy talking to me. We would just have a conversation for a long time.”

In the two years since Teshome has found plenty of people to talk to. He’ll earn his computer science degree this spring before continuing his master’s degree in business analytics in the fall. But he says the social element of Santa Clara is where he’s grown most—chatting with friends at Benson, working on teams in class, asking all the questions he once couldn’t find the words for.

“Coming to Santa Clara changed my life for the better,” Teshome says. “I’m just so happy. It was the best decision of my life.”

With just weeks until graduation, Teshome recently sat down to discuss his experience moving to the United States and his time at Santa Clara.

Why did you move to the United States? 

Around 10-11 years ago, my dad came to the U.S. to become the head priest at an Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in San Jose. Not having him around was tough, but he did it to give us better opportunities. Fast forward to 5 years ago, he moved us all to San Jose so we could be together. We’re super grateful to be in the US, where there’s so much potential. Thanks to my dad’s selflessness, we can take advantage of it all. San Jose is where I call home now.

You currently live with your family at home. What’s it like balancing home life and school? 

I have to give credit where credit is due: my family is why I’m successful today. They’re always there to support me and motivate me to do better. Even though I like working alone and spend most of my time cooped up in my room, we make sure to come together for meals. We’re Ethiopian, so we have this thing where we share food from the same plate, and we’ve kept up that tradition in our fam. My mother is an excellent cook and cooks fresh, mouth-watering meals two to three times a day. Her cooking skills are out of this world, and I’m so grateful to have access to such healthy and nourishing food every day. It’s crazy how she manages to cook so much, especially in a world where people don’t really care about eating healthy anymore.

What was your favorite class at Santa Clara? 

So, I took this religion class and got the chance to volunteer for 16 hours through the Arrupe Engagement program. Every Wednesday, we handed out food to people experiencing homelessness and talked with them. It was eye-opening to hear about their life stories and get advice from them, and they were also curious to know about our lives in Santa Clara. There was this one guy I won’t forget—he had a Bachelor’s degree in History from San Jose State University and was seriously smart. We’d talk for hours, and he had so much wisdom and knowledge to share, especially about Ethiopia, which was super interesting to me. I learned a ton from him.

Last year, you had a remote internship with a startup called Zindi in Capetown, South Africa. What was that like? 

After I graduate, I’m hoping to work in data science and business intelligence. My internship gave me important technical skills like Python, data visualization, and machine learning. But the best part was getting to work in a team. I’m usually pretty shy, but I loved sharing my ideas and collaborating with everyone. We were all working from home, so dealing with different time zones was tough, but it made me realize how important clear communication is. We had to ensure we were all on the same page, which wasn’t always easy. But in the end, I came out with a bunch of new knowledge and a stronger skill set.

Ameha Teshome -sitting on steps of Mission Church

Photo by Jim Gensheimer

What are some of your favorite places on campus? 

When my schedule gets too crazy to make it to my Ethiopian church in downtown San Jose, I like going to the Mission church instead. Even though our religious beliefs are a little different, I still feel like it’s a sacred place, and it’s comforting to pray there. And man, I love Benson and the new Sobrato campus. Those places hold so many memories for me, and I feel so connected to them. The Mission Garden is another spot that means a lot to me. Some of my friends think I’m being silly for being so attached to Santa Clara, but I’m grateful every day for the opportunity to go here. It wasn’t easy to get here, and I value every moment I spend with my friends and the whole Santa Clara community. Even though it’s a small school, the sense of community here is undeniably strong.

What does success mean to you as you enter the professional world? 

When we’re growing up, we’re taught that success means working for a big company and having tons of material possessions like fancy cars and big houses. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that success to me is all about being there for my loved ones. So my main goal is to find a job that makes me happy after graduation and help my parents have a comfortable retirement. I don’t really care about getting a ton of stuff for myself—I just want to do something meaningful for the people who are most important to me, like my family, close friends, and those in my inner circle.