Twists and turns in life, a 10-year age difference, and differing academic and career interests may have sent siblings Tené Green and Rhyan Williams on separate paths as they grew up, but going to college has brought them closer.
“When we were younger, we weren’t as close because of the age difference between us. But now we are able to do something together,” said Williams, 22, of being a student at California State University, Dominguez Hills with her sister.
However, concurrently attending the university—let alone college in general—wasn’t something the sisters set out to do.
Green was already working as a certified Licensed Vocational Nurse and looking to become a registered nurse when Williams was still a high school student at Hawthorne Math and Science Academy. But because a nursing program at a community college was impacted, Green was twice shut out in 2006 and 2007, and lost her momentum to move forward.
“I was really frustrated and I kind of gave up on school. I really did,” she recalled.
Other challenges facing the elder sister also put her education further on the back burner. Their parents risked foreclosure due to bankruptcy, and, being the adult daughter, Green stepped in and took over the mortgage on their South Los Angeles home, all the while raising her own young daughter as a single parent.
Meanwhile, Green was taking notice of the neighborhood and became dismayed with the high percentage of school dropout rates, gang activity, youth unemployment, and the lack of social structure.
“There’s not a lot of things for youth to do in the community, not a lot of recreation or any place for them to channel positive energy,” Green pointed out.
Reenergized, she decided to renew her educational pursuits, but in a different direction. At the same time Williams was graduating from high school and was on to college herself.
“In 2009, Rhyan was in her freshman year at Dominguez during the time I was finishing my pre-reqs for my AA degree at South West College,” Green recalled.
It was joining the Poetry Collective Club at Los Angeles South West College and having the opportunity to practice public speaking for the first time, that Green realized she was meant for public service—where she could affect changes in the community.
With two associate degrees—one in liberal arts with a concentration in natural science and the other in interdisciplinary studies—from L.A. South West College, Green transferred to CSU Dominguez Hills where her younger sister also, and independently, chose to attend.
Williams was a sophomore majoring in psychology. Green entered as a junior majoring in political science. Although each focused on their coursework, Williams said they were still able to support each other. Working more hours at her job during the past two years at CSU Dominguez Hills, that bond with her older sister was just what Williams, a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, needed to stay on top of her school work.
“Since she was a teenager until now, Tené has overcome a lot and come a long way. That shows that there’s no barrier or obstacle that you can’t overcome no matter how hard it is,” Williams said. “I learned that from her.”
And completing her education was just one of Green’s goals she wanted to accomplish.
“I knew that I wanted to be a political science major [at CSU Dominguez Hills] and that I wanted to go to Washington D.C. one day,” Green recalled.
Her one day happened this past January when she was accepted into the 15-week Cal State Washington, D.C. Internship Program. Green—assigned to the communications department in the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement—coordinated communications, monitored news, and prepared paperwork for Secretary of the United States Department of Interior Sally Jewell.
“Everything I learned at Dominguez was very relevant. It made it so much easier to understand what’s going on [in Washington, D.C.],” said Green. “I learned a lot about the environment, … how coal mining is the main source of our electricity, how some of the efforts to get natural resources damages our planet. It’s not just sitting in an office or reading a book. You actually get to go out and see what it is you are doing in the office. It’s definitely changed the way that I think.”
Among advisors and mentors from South West College and CSU Dominguez Hills, Green credited political science department chair Richard Palmer for helping her to develop her academic direction and associate professor of political science and coordinator of the Model UN program at CSU Dominguez Hills Hamoud Salhi for not only mentoring her in the program but for emphasizing the importance of integrity.
“When I met the President of the United Nations … I knew about so much of what he talked about and I was able to ask him questions based on my knowledge that I had from taking the [Model UN] class,” she said.
Green plans to eventually return to the nation’s capital with an even loftier goal —“I want to run for President of the United States,” she avowed.
For now she has been accepted to CSU Dominguez Hills’ master’s program in public policy, which she will begin in the fall.
In the meantime, to groom herself to be the head of the nation, she is planning to work in Congressional affairs, for a representative to Congress, or run for a seat in a local political office.
Williams, who may have caught up to her big sister educationally still has some time to catch up with her in terms of life experience, is considering pursuing a master’s in psychology after a break from school and hopes to one day to have a private practice in clinical psychology or in an educational setting. For now, though, she can bask in a shared achievement.
The first-generation college students graduated together each with a Bachelor of Arts from California State University, Dominguez Hills during the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences commencement ceremony on May 18.
“Graduating from college in and of itself is an accomplishment. Having someone in your family that you’re close with, to do that with is even better,” Williams said.