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A Finley couple showed their niece how to succeed. Now the WSU grad is helping others

Tri-City Herald logoTri-City Herald 12/26/2019 By Cameron Probert, Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

Akanna Poor really wanted to go college.

When she was in high school, Poor spent the time she wasn’t working as a restaurant hostess studying in the classroom. She was driven to learn and earned good grades.

“It was never a surprise that I wanted to go to college,” she said. “I just didn’t know how I was going to make that happen.”

But it wasn’t until her aunt and uncle, Janelle and Rich Westberg of Finley, offered to help her that she had any hope of getting into classes.

Now, the recent WSU Tri-Cities graduate decided to give back to others in the hope of helping other first-generation college students make the transition from high school diploma to college degree.

She hopes her $500 gift to the WSU Tri-Cities MOSIAC Center can make the same difference in another student’s life.

Along with offering workshops on social issues and a library on equity and diversity topics, the center also provides counseling and other help for first-generation students.

Her donation is the first for the recently created center. University officials are working on setting up a fund so others can donate, as well.

“I picked the MOSIAC Center because I knew they were going to invest and be a resource for students who may not have the support, just as my aunt and uncle did for me,” she said.

Struggled to find a way

While Poor wanted to go to college, she didn’t know how to apply for financial aid or sign up for classes. And no one around her knew how to help her.

So as she approached high school graduation in Indiana, she applied and was accepted into colleges, but she was lost on what to do next or how to apply for financial aid.

“I had a hard time at home and I was working a lot and it culminated in me on a deep downward spiral,” she said. “It’s nearly impossible to sign up for classes when you don’t know which classes you should be taking. ... It was so overwhelming at first.”

Her aunt offered Poor a way to move forward. If Poor moved to the Tri-Cities, they could help her find her way through signing up for college.

They helped all of their children start college and valued the idea of a higher education.

Poor saved up enough money to pay for her first two months rent and moved the 2,000 miles to share an apartment with her cousin. She worked for four months and started taking classes at Columbia Basin College.

She said without them believing in her, she probably wouldn’t have made it. She was so afraid of failure she started crying and walked out during an English test.

Her aunt talked her back into the classroom to finish the exam.

“They convinced me that am I capable of doing this. That is a lot of what they helped me through,” she said.

They also helped her get her driver’s license and her first car.

Poor ended up transferring to WSU Tri-Cities in Richland and finished her classes for a social science degree this semester. Now, she is taking some time before deciding what her next move will be.

During her college career, she helped organize trips to the Legislature and helped draft a school policy manual dealing with Title IX rules on sex discrimination.

A special presentation

When Poor was ready to make the donation to the MOSIAC Center, she asked for help from the Chancellor Sandra Haynes in writing a letter to her aunt and uncle.

The letter detailed the ways the Westbergs supported her, and how the donation was a way to pass on that impact to future generations.

“They cried when I gave it to them,” she said. “They loved it. They thought it was great and were super proud of me, which means so much to me. It was both my Christmas and graduation gift to them.”

Poor is still considering whether she wants to attend law school, but also she wants to have a career that empowers women.

“My aunt and uncle gave me such a gift — it is an example that I have established for my future kids,” she said. “I want to continue to give back in the way that they do for so many.”

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©2019 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

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