By Erin Hassanzadeh

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Nasri Maktal, a senior at Mounds Park Academy, is on a mission to help others embrace their heritage.

As a first-generation Somali woman, Maktal is using her own experience to help others navigate a life of balancing two cultures.

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At age 17, Maktal has a resume that puts most of us to shame, but it wasn’t easy.

“Growing up I was always struggling with being Somali, which is the culture that I identity with, and also being American,” Maktal said.

Maktal channeled her struggles as a first-generation woman to propel herself forward.

“I am amongst many targeted groups in this world – I’m Muslim, I’m black and I’m a woman,” Maktal said.

When she realized others needed a boost, too, she started “Female Refugees of the Future,” an organization that provides community, mentorship and college counseling to immigrant, refugee and first-generation women.

“They’re given needs such as housing and food and not much other than that, and we want to help them acclimate rather than assimilate,” Maktal said.

Earlier this spring, a chance encounter at an equity summit landed Maktal the opportunity of a lifetime.

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“I went up to her afterwards and said, ‘I would love to be your intern,'” Maktal said.

This summer, she interned for Best Buy CEO Corie Barry.

“She is extremely personable, she is genuine, she is kind and seeing somebody who is a world leader genuinely care about other people was super inspiring,” Maktal said.

The experience was defining.

“She said that she has studied CEOs across the board like Tim Cook, she has met with the Target CEO, the Ulta Beauty CEO and they all had the specific spark about them, and she told me that I had that spark and that she knew it when she met me,” Maktal said. “I think that was one of the most transformative things that anybody has said to me.”

“Seeing what really matters to her come to life has been wonderful to watch,” said Mark Segal, director of Mounds Park Academy Upper School.

Now, Maktal is using her unteachable spark to ignite that flame in others.

“Having the education to know that I can fight for myself and my voice is powerful has been so incredible,” Maktal said.

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Maktal’s organization now has chapters in several states. She hopes to have a conference with all of the chapters in Minneapolis someday and to attend college in New York City next fall.

Erin Hassanzadeh