Reason Why NOVA Student is Grateful to be Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship Semifinalist, Plans to Use Platform for Human Rights Advocacy

April 7, 2023

Tenzin Tsega was a senior in high school when the COVID shutdown began. He used that time to work on himself, improve his mental health, figure out who he was, and find his purpose in life. 


During this personal reflection, Tenzin realized he wanted to go to NOVA, in part because of its diverse community. He wanted not only to be a part of the NOVA community, but to make an impact and make something meaningful out of his two years there. 

Tenzin also realized how much he wanted to help his mother after all the sacrifices she had made. He thought attending NOVA could be a step toward helping make that happen. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background 

My upbringing was far from conventional. While I was born in America, I spent most of my formative years in a Tibetan refugee settlement in India. This was due to the sacrifices my mother had to make as a single parent who had to work in America to provide for our family back in India. To ensure that I received the best possible care, she made the difficult yet necessary decision to send me to live with my aunts and grandmother. I spent most of my pre-adolescence there and returned to Fairfax to attend Luther Jackson Middle School and Oakton High School. 

During my time in India, I had the opportunity to live with my aunts and grandmother, who not only treated me as their own, but also taught me valuable life lessons that I carry with me to this day. One of my aunts played a crucial role in my education and instilled in me a love of learning that has carried me through my academic journey. I owe her a debt of gratitude for all that she did for me. 

Living in an undeveloped refugee settlement, away from my mother, was both challenging and enriching. Despite the difficult living conditions, I was able to learn to appreciate the simpler things in life. 

My mother's journey to America was no different than that of other immigrants. She arrived with only a hundred dollars in her pocket and a determination to provide a better life for her family. Her sacrifices and hard work have instilled in me a strong work ethic and a sense of gratitude for the opportunities that America has provided for our family. 

My upbringing has taught me the importance of perseverance, resilience, and the power of family support. These values continue to guide me in my personal and professional life, and I am proud of my unique background as a Tibetan American. 

Tell us about being a Jack Kent Cooke Semifinalist 

My mother has made so many sacrifices, and I want to make it as easy as possible for her. So being a semifinalist means a lot. It's just another step to helping my mom out, not just me. 

What brought you to NOVA? 

I chose to attend NOVA Community College for several reasons. Finances played a significant role in my decision, and NOVA offered a more affordable option compared to the universities. Also, I wanted to develop new skills and improve myself, and I believed NOVA would provide me with a great environment to do so. 

NOVA's location was another major factor in my decision. It's close to my home in Fairfax, which was important to me then. Additionally, it's near my Tibetan community, which I wanted to stay connected with. 

Most importantly, I was drawn to NOVA because of the strong sense of community. I wanted to be part of a meaningful community where I could connect with others who share similar experiences and goals and who are trying to discover themselves before they move onto a four-year institution. 

Many of the students at NOVA are low-income, first-generation like me, so I felt I would fit in well and have a support system. So far, my experience at NOVA has exceeded my expectations in terms of the community and support that I have found here. 

What are you studying at NOVA? 

I'm currently in my final semester studying geopolitics at NOVA. As a third-generation Tibetan, activism has been a big part of my life. 

I've been lobbying for human rights since I was 15 years old, and that's what sparked my interest in politics. I wanted to understand how the world works and how I could help make a positive impact on a global scale. Studying geopolitics is allowing me to do that. 

My ultimate dream is to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I want to be able to help people who are facing displacement and other human rights abuses. I believe the UNHCR is doing important work and would love to be a part of that. Also, I plan to continue doing advocacy work on behalf of the Tibetan community and other marginalized groups. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA (i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met) 

My experience at NOVA has been incredibly meaningful and transformative. I have had the opportunity to grow personally and professionally while giving back to the community through various services. 

Through the engaging courses, I became a more inquisitive and passionate learner. Outside the classroom is where I felt the most growth within myself. I founded NOVA's Asian Student Association. This was during a time of heightened hate toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). I served as the association's president and created a safe space for AAPI students at NOVA. 

Also, I took part in student government as a senator. Eventually, I became the student body president, representing the voices of thousands of students and leading a dedicated group of individuals with the common goal of helping our NOVA community and low-income students like ourselves. 

In addition, the AAPI Connect program provided a supportive community for me as a peer mentor, where I had the privilege of working with Dr. Hurley, Dr. Mei Lan, and Heather Moser. They have been instrumental in my growth and learning. 

The professors at NOVA have been exceptional, from my English Professor, Heather Flor, to my recent Environmental Science Professor, Susan Smillie. They have given me invaluable knowledge and support. Dakota Prince, who used to work at NOVA, also played a significant role in my growth and development, when he was our SGA advisor. 

My NOVA experience has been exceptional, providing me with opportunities to learn, grow, and serve the community. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 

Don't be afraid to try new things. Stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to many opportunities for growth and self-discovery. When I first came to NOVA, I lacked the confidence to take on leadership roles. However, I pushed myself to do so, and I am glad I did because it provided me with the chance to help other students and grow as a person. I would encourage any incoming students to be open to new experiences. 

Also, take advantage of all the opportunities NOVA has to offer and make the most of their time here, whether it's joining programs or a club, taking on a leadership role, or getting involved in community service. There are countless ways to make a positive impact and enhance your personal and academic development. 

NOVA provides a supportive and inclusive environment that encourages students to explore their interests and passions while gaining the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. I would encourage incoming students to make the most of their time at NOVA, seize every opportunity that comes their way, and take ownership of their academic journey. 

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? 

After  NOVA, I have a couple of ideas of what I want to pursue. My goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in international relations from a four-year institution. I also have a strong desire to study abroad, and I am considering programs that would allow me to do so. 

Ultimately, my dream is to work at the United Nations Commission for Refugees, where I can make a positive impact and continue helping people. 

In addition to pursuing my academic and career goals, another driving force behind my aspirations is my desire to make my mother proud and help her financially. 

I am determined to work hard and create a stable and secure future for my family. One of my top priorities is to get my mother out of debt and provide her with the financial support she deserves. She has always been my biggest supporter and source of inspiration, and I want to repay her kindness and sacrifice by making her proud and giving back to her in any way I can. 


AAPI Connect - Peer Mentorship Program - Northern Virginia Community College (

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