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University Advancement | December 2019  


First-generation student makes the most of post-secondary education

Nathan Anania Emmanuel

Nathan Anania Emmanuel, pictured at the Ted Rogers School of Management, credits the Marwah Family Award for First-Generation Students for helping him succeed at Ryerson. Photo: Alia Youssef


Ryerson business student Nathan Anania Emmanuel’s parents moved to Canada from Ethiopia before he was born. They couldn’t afford the time or cost of higher education for themselves, so they focused on encouraging their children’s schooling. Emmanuel’s father worked six days as a taxi driver to support him and his sister. When Emmanuel would come home feeling dejected from a disappointing test result, his mother would say, “knowledge is like a passport, it should never leave you.”

His parents saw education as so much bigger than grades. It would give their children a strong foundation to find their place in their new country with confidence; it would help them problem solve, navigate cultural differences, and get through tough times.

Emmanuel, the recipient of the $5,000 Marwah Family Award for first-generation students, always dreamed of going to university, but he didn’t know if he’d make it. “University, to me, was not guaranteed,” he says. He didn’t have the luxury of bringing homework questions to his parents for help, given English was their second language and they were educated in a very different system. “I had to rely on myself to develop the discipline to learn.”

He is not only the first one in his household to attend university, he’s also the only one of his five cousins in North America to attend university upon completing high school. 

Emmanuel chose Ryerson’s business program because he’d heard it had a great reputation, and he felt he his leadership and discipline skills were well suited to business. “I was focusing on my strengths,” he says. He loves that Ryerson is located right downtown, “in a city where dreams come true.” He adds, “I’ve made great friends, I’ve had great professors and I've learned from serious professionals in various industries.”

Emmanuel sees his undergraduate degree as an opportunity “to find out who you are as a person.” In that pursuit, he’s worked alongside other students to organize Student Life events, he took a position as a research assistant in his entrepreneurship department, and he’s visited China, Germany, Turkey and Washington, D.C., on trips made available through various Ryerson organizations for exceptional business students and student leaders.

“When you go to international countries and you have to create a business solution for a problem in an international market that you aren't familiar with, you really have to draw from all you’ve learned in your textbooks and course work over the years. It’s pretty amazing to be able to pull together different pieces of your knowledge,” he says.

Emmanuel credits the Marwah Family Award for First-Generation Students, which he received in his third and fourth years, for allowing him to focus on both his studies and his extracurricular learning. “It’s removed the stress I would have had trying to keep up with part time work and do well in school,” he says, “and it gave me the assurance that I’m meant to be here and what I’m doing is the right thing for me.”

When he graduates, Emmanuel hopes to go to Ethiopia and look for opportunities in foreign direct investment. Emmanuel has visited his country twice, and says he wants to give back to help his parents’ home country. “I see how progressive the country is becoming...the Ethiopian diaspora
now has an opportunity to utilize what we’ve learned, take our human capital, and help develop it holistically.”

By Wendy Glauser

This story first appeared as a feature on Ryerson’s Access to Education page.

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