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Muhammad Yunus

When University of Wisconsin Oshkosh junior Muhammad Yunus told his parents, rice farmers in Indonesia, that he was recently inducted into the national honor society for first-generation students, they cried.

“They were in tears over FaceTime,” said Yunus, who along with 30 UWO students, was invited to join Tri-Alpha, the only national honors society for students who are the first in their families to go to college. “I wish I could find a proper word or vocabulary to describe how happy they were.” 

Cordelia Bowlus

 Cordelia Bowlus, McNair Program Director at UWO, described the Spring 2024  induction ceremony as a celebration not only for the students but for their families and friends.

“There are few things more rewarding than celebrating first-gen students’ success, and there is no better way to do it than through inducting new members into our Zeta Theta Chapter of the Tri-Alpha First-Generation College Honors Society,” Bowlus said. “Everyone is so proud and appreciative of the opportunity to publicly celebrate their student’s college success.”

To be invited to be a member of Tri-Alpha, first-generation college students must have earned a minimum of 30 credits and have a 3.2 GPA or higher. Students who maintain that GPA are awarded Tri-Alpha graduation cords during their final semester at UWO. 

UWO students are inducted in the Zeta Theta Chapter of Tri-Alpha First-Generation College Honors Society.

Bowlus and Lisa Arguello, coordinator of pre-college programs at UWO created the Zeta Theta Chapter in fall 2022, to recognize the high-achieving first-generation students. At UWO, more than 40 percent of the student population are first generation, and so far, 145 have been inducted as members of Tri-Alpha.

Yunus, an international student from a rural village of fewer than 500 in Mattoangin, Indonesia, is well aware of the sacrifices his parents have made for him.

“They’ve always believed in the transformative power of education,” said Yunus, who is majoring in finance. “This belief is what led them to send me to Makassar, a city 100 miles away when I was 13, in pursuit of a better education.” 

 His father had a high school education, and his mother completed junior high. Yunus said his parents wanted more for their son.

“They said you are going to school so you better not be a farmer, you better have a better job, a better life,” he said. 

Muhammad Yunus, fourth from left, holds his nephew Arkana, with his sister-in-law Lis, left; mother, Ida; father, Harman; and brother, Ide, right, holding niece Anara.

Yunus had always dreamed of coming to America to earn a college degree. Every year for seven years, he applied for a place in the Community College Initiative, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. He landed at Fox Valley Technical College, where he earned a technical diploma in business management.

Because his student visa was only good for a year, he returned to Indonesia but still kept his dreams of a four-year degree in the United States. During his time in the U.S. at a volunteer event, he met retired educator, Mark Janssen of Little Chute, who learned of Yunus’ educational dreams. Janssen decided to be Yunus’ host family and student visa sponsor. 

But there was the challenge of getting Yunus back to Oshkosh.

“When my host family texted me about coming back to the U.S., I shared that information to my parents and my mom said ‘no’ right away because they did not have money to support me flying back to the U.S.,” Yunus said. 

 Yunus said his dad was quiet as he shared this news: They would sell one of their two family cows for $930, enough for a one-way ticket back to the United States in August of 2022. The sum represented 7-8 months of living expenses for the family.

“My dad told me to never come back until I get my degree because the ticket was, and is still expensive,” Yunus said with a laugh. “That is the reason why I always try my best in everything while I am here because of the sacrifices that my parents have made for my education.”  

 2024 Tri-Alpha inductees: 

 Jason Adams, Brianna Bougie, Brookelyn Coan, Adam Flood, Aidan Funk, Savannah Hardy, Amy Jape, Madison Kirsch, Faith Lee, Cindy Lopez, Ashley Sara Mendieta, Kiley Millay, Ashley Lynn Olson, Heidi Prohl, Brooklynn Roble, Dante Santana, Tracy Schabel, Samantha Sidoti, Lexus Sommers, M Der Thao, Pa Nhia Thao, Abbigail Vanderwege, Hannah Joy Vang, Ellisa Wyrwicki, Muhammad Yunus 

 2024 Graduating Tri-Alpha members 

Rachel Bautz (Spring 2023),  Madison, social work

Kaleigh Baxter (Fall 2023), Walworth, nursing

Blanca M. Blancarte (2024), Chicago, social work

Ashton Campbell (Fall 2022) Burlington, nursing 

Melissa Dorsch (Spring 2023), Seymour, rehabilitation science 

Justyce Eggert (Fall 2023), Kaukaua, nursing 

Konner Goetsch (Fall 2023), Union Grove, environmental studies and geography 

Rebecca Kohl (Fall 2023), Appleton, social work and minor in psychology 

Brianna Krahn (Fall 2023), Fond du Lac, international business management 

Nuechi Lee (Spring 2023), Green Bay, education with a certificate in English as a Second Language 

Tatiana Monterrosa Aguilar (Spring 2023), Neenah, professional counseling with an emphasis on clinical mental health 

Audrey Naeyaert (Spring 2023), Schwano, social work and minor in social justice with an emphasis in poverty  

Nicole Noonan (Fall 2023), Algoma, master in business administration 

Lizbeth Rodriguez, (Spring 2023), Whitewater, nursing 

Hailey Tanem (Fall 2023), Fond du Lac, associate degree

Sebastian Vang (Fall 2023) Fond du Lac, WI, radio TV film 

Yoyo Vue (Spring 2023),  Milwaukee, social work 

Diana Enriquez (Spring 2024), Appleton, WI, nursing with minor in Spanish 

Grace Iribagiza (Spring 2024), Oshkosh, nursing

Megan Propson (Spring 2024), New Holstein, business management 

Mackenzie Lee Taylor (Spring 2024), Walworth, early-elementary education 

Marcasa Washington (Spring 2024), Milwaukee, liberal studies 

Honorary Inductee 

Emily Marie Colon 


Learn more: 

Study finance at UWO 

Be an international student at UWO 

McNair Scholars at UWO

First Scholars for first-generation students