SOUTH PORTLAND — Westbrook resident Dorcas Ngaliema was worried that Southern Maine Community College wouldn’t be the right fit for her when she started out studying electrical engineering. But now, after a change in majors and increased involvement at the school, she is being honored as SMCC’s Student of the Year. 

Her selection, she said, came as a surprise and will help her further her education.

“I wanted to cry. I was so happy,” she said.

Ngaliema joined awardees from the state’s six other community colleges at a ceremony Wednesday at Maple Hill Farm in Hallowell. Each winner was given a $1,000 John and Jana Lapoint Leadership Award. 

Ngaliema was chosen by SMCC staff and faculty for her leadership skills, academic achievement and service both at SMCC and in the community. She is an active member of student government and started a chapter of the Southern Poverty Law Center at SMCC. She has also hosted a number of forums for  students to share their views on world and political issues and serves as a tour guide for the school.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ngaliema moved to South Africa when she was 9 months old. She came to the United States when she was 17, attending school in South Portland before graduating from Portland High School in 2016. 

“I got more involved with social justice after I came to Maine and my interest changed completely,” Ngaliema said.

She will graduate in May and plans to study political society at the University of Southern Maine. Her education at SMCC, she said, was paid for by a local family through the Boy’s and Girl’s Club in Portland, but because she is an asylum seeker and therefore not eligible for financial aid, it is up to her to fund her education at USM.

Her goal is to get a master’s degree in education from USM and become a teacher. Her ultimate goal is to become an immigration lawyer.

“That’s the reason I went into political science,” she said.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Dorcas Ngaliema

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