Carbonite is pleased to announce that CEO Mohamad Ali has been named a winner of uAspire's 2017 First One Awards.
The First One Awards honor Massachusetts leaders who are also first-generation college graduates, and Ali will receive his award during uAspire's annual gala at the InterContinental Hotel in Boston on March 30th. Marty Meehan, President of the University of Massachusetts, and May Bumar, ITSM Analyst at Liberty Mutual, are also being honored.
The mission of uAspire is to ensure that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to—and through—a postsecondary education.
Ali completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Stanford University. I sat down with him recently to learn more about his experiences in higher education, and find out his best advice for aspiring college students.
Did your parents emphasize the importance of education when you were a boy?
Mohamad Ali: Absolutely. I came to America from Guyana when I was 11. I think my parents felt the same way about education as many immigrants: it's the key to a better life. They made sure I always had supplies for school even when there was little money for other things, and that I was never late to school. They encouraged me to work hard and learn; and I did.
Were your parents proud when it came time for you to go to college?
Ali:They certainly were, but the funny thing was that my parents didn't know much about colleges. We took a trip in the family car, which was a repainted NYC taxicab, and visited Harvard, M.I.T., Columbia and a few others. While they recognized Harvard, the rest were mostly new names to them. But they knew that education was important and they were very supportive when I ultimately decided to attend Stanford.
Did you get a scholarship to Stanford?
Ali:Yes, but at the end of the first year, I wasn't sure that I would to go back. Even though my scholarship covered much of the tuition and fees for the first year, it covered less in the second year. I didn’t know if my parents could find the money to cover the higher costs, and I felt terrible putting them in this position, so I was close to deciding not to go back. Fortunately, my parents prioritized education first, and I did return to Stanford for my sophomore year. During my freshman year, I had a minimum wage job doing manual labor at a shopping stall. In my sophomore year, I found a better job at the campus computer help desk. One of my favorite tasks was helping students recover lost files, when their hard drives crashed. Maybe that’s why I love working at Carbonite so much! Anyway, I kept getting better jobs, and by my last year, I was able to pay for much of the costs not covered by the scholarship. That experience taught me to get as much as possible out of every dollar. I ended up getting two undergraduate degrees and a master's degree in four-and-a-half years. But it wasn't because I was smart—it was because I knew the value of a dollar and I worked very hard to get the most out of it. Today, I like to joke that my wife is the smart one and I'm the hard worker.
What did it feel like to learn that you'll be receiving one of uAspire's 2017 First One Awards?
Ali:Honored, though it felt a bit wrong getting an award for completing college. In many ways, completing college itself was a tremendous reward. But I didn’t do it on my own. I had help, from my parents, my teachers, our family friends and from the philanthropic community. I realized that this award was not so much for me, but to encourage young people who might not think they can get a college degree that in fact they can, and to motivate others to help them. I am both touched and honored to be recognized, but more importantly to be part of uAspire’s mission.
What advice do you have for young people who hope to follow a similar path and become the first in their families to attend college?
Ali:Well, I think my parents were right: education is the key to a better life. I would advise young people to seize any opportunity to learn, in whatever form that learning might take. It could come in the form of taking an extra class after school, or in the form of reading every word on the back of the cereal box. I used to learn all sorts of random facts from the backs of cereal boxes. (Laughs) But my point is this: Just keep learning.
How do you feel about programs like uAspire that are designed to help kids get a solid education?
Ali:I'm very glad that there are organizations like uAspire. There are many kids who are highly capable and motivated, but simply can't afford to go to college. Organizations like uAspire help these kids find resources and information to pursue the dream of a college education. For me, there were both organizations that supported me financially, as well as people who encouraged me. For example, I had a middle school teacher who taught me, in the mornings before school started, how to program on her computer. If I had never been given this encouragement and opportunity, there's a good chance I wouldn't be sitting here at Carbonite today. Organizations like uAspire are both important and needed to support young people in the quest for a better life through education.