George Mason University

Pioneering Research

Mason is...Driven to Serve

portrait of Volgenau Engineering graduate Dawite Ewnetu

May 2016 graduate Dawite Ewnetu, a computer science and mathematics major, is returning to his native Ethiopia to build shelters for children who must work to support their families. “They sell items and clean shoes. Sometimes they have no place to sleep at night, or any place to store their belongings,” he says. Afterward, he'll return to the United States to a job as a systems analyst at Lockheed Martin.

Going Home and Giving Back

Computer science and mathematics major Dawite Ewnetu did not touch a computer until he attended high school in Virginia. Born in northwestern Ethiopia, he grew up in a rural area with no electricity or clean water. Some of the schools he attended had as many as 120 children in one class.

“My father encouraged me to get an education,” Ewnetu says. “He told me and my brothers and sisters that the one with the best grades would receive a gift. My father encouraged all of us to be self-sufficient but also to help others.”

When he began his studies at Mason in 2012, Ewnetu knew he would need to work to help pay his bills.

"Soon after coming to Mason, I got a letter from the financial aid office that told me I owed the school money—a lot of money that my family didn’t have. I was lucky enough to find a job as a math tutor,” he says.

His work as a math tutor led him to choose a major in mathematics. Then after taking an introductory programming class in Python, he became interested in computer science and decided to double major.

“The kids [in Ethiopa] have to work to help support their families. They sell items and clean shoes. Sometimes they have no place to sleep at night, or anyplace to store their belongings.”

Dawite Ewnetu

Ewtenu said he always looks for ways to inspire others, whether he is in the United States or in Ethiopia. In the United States, he participates in the Mariam College Access Program, where he helps high school students prepare for college. In Ethiopia, he started a project called “Help Street Kids in Ethiopia” to help children who work and live on the streets of Bahir Dar.

After graduation, he's returning to Ethiopia to build shelters for these children. The shelters, which were designed by Ewtenu, are simple three-sided structures with a roof and some shelving on the sides. Ewtenu set up a gofundme site to solicit donations to support the project. He also received four suitcases of donated used clothing to take back with him and has asked Ethiopian Airlines to help with the cost of flying the clothing overseas.

“When I go home for the summer, I want to do more than visit my family. I want to help my community,” says Ewtenu.

When he returns to Virginia, he has a job as a systems analyst waiting for him at Lockheed Martin.