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Different Paths, Distinguished Achievement

The 2013 Distinguished Seniors came to the University through very different paths, but each found success through academic and extracurricular achievement. Fatima Kukaswadia, of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, and Timothy Ahlberg, of Perrysburg, Ohio, both earned business and economics degrees, concentrating in accounting, through the School of Business and Nonprofit Management.

Kukaswadia is a naturalized citizen who came with her family to the United States at age 3 from Pakistan. She is visually impaired, the caregiver in a close-knit family, and achieved more at North Park than she could imagine. Ahlberg, the youngest of three children, excelled in the classroom and on the soccer field. He will work and study in Mexico beginning this fall, thanks to a Fulbright student award from the U.S. State Department.

College was anything but easy for Kukaswadia. She finished her degree in five years, delayed just before her junior year by the death of her 32-year-old brother, Muhammad Tahir, in a traffic accident. The youngest of four children, Kukaswadia was very close to Tahir, a Chicago taxi driver. “My brother meant a lot to me. I was raised by him,” she said.

She left North Park for a semester that fall to reflect on the loss, but never forgot Tahir’s encouragement. “He used to say to me, ‘If there’s a will, there’s a way.’ I always wanted to go to college. Now, I wanted to fulfill his dream,” she said. Kukaswadia returned to North Park for two more years, and is the first in her family to earn a college degree.

Kukaswadia excelled, earning a 3.8 grade point average, and is grateful for the assistance she received from the Office of Student Enrichment and Support staff, as well as faculty and students. She recorded lectures to learn concepts, and listened to them again at home, reworking her notes. She worked at Brandel Library, and was an intern at the Albany Park Community Center. She earned the North Park Leadership Award, a Chicago Lighthouse Scholarship, was president of the South Asian Student Association, and a member of the North Park Business Club. In addition to her own challenges, Kukaswadia cares for her physically disabled parents at home, neither of whom can do routine household chores.

Dr. Lee Sundholm, professor of economics, wrote that “she understood that knowledge is the key to a productive life and a successful career, and I hope she goes on to graduate work for an MBA.” Sundholm nominated Kukaswadia because of her academic achievements and his respect for her “as a truly outstanding example of a student who exemplifies significance and service.”

Kukaswadia hopes to gain professional experience and earn an MBA or law degree. She also sees herself working in the nonprofit world one day. “One of my dreams is to do nonprofit work, perhaps financial consulting work—anything that would help me help the community,” she said.

Ahlberg, president of the North Park student body, was a standout student and soccer goalkeeper, and volunteer with homeless ministries. His choice to attend North Park was influenced by his parents, both alumni, as well as the opportunity to attend a small college in a big city. “There’s something different at North Park, something that I sensed when I was here to visit the school,” he said. “God blessed me with the faith to take the leap to come here.” He also credits many faculty and staff for mentoring him during his North Park years.

Dr. Ann Hicks, associate professor of accounting, said Ahlberg, whose grade point average was 3.9, was a classroom leader. “He approaches each learning activity not only with the goal of meeting the requirement of the course, but with the goal of maximizing his educational experience and that of his student colleagues,” she wrote in her in nomination.

Ahlberg minored in Spanish, and studied abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico, during his sophomore year. He returns this August for a 10-month business internship in Mexico City, because of a Fulbright Binational Business Exchange Grant, and will take MBA classes at night. “Fulbright is all about building relationships between the United States and other countries, and for me that’s one of the main goals. I think it will be invaluable to have those relationships, and understand a different perspective,” Ahlberg said. He plans on a career in business afterward, and expects to continue work on his MBA.

Ahlberg was captain of the North Park men’s soccer team this year, was named an all-conference and all-district player, and was twice named an Academic All-American. He leaves North Park with good memories of the team’s strong fan support and his many international teammates. “North Park soccer is one-of-a-kind for a Division 3 school,” he said.

After graduation, Ahlberg will travel to Thailand through the University’s Global Partnerships program. There, he will work with missionaries to establish a fish farm, help with a youth soccer program, serve in a community center, and stay with a host family in Bangkok. He will return to Chicago to work in the auditing department of PriceWaterhouseCoopers before leaving for Mexico.

Next Steps

Check out more on our outstanding graduating class of 2013, including photos and ceremony videos.

Read more from the Summer 2013 North Parker.

Distinguished Seniors