PORTLAND – The Portland Housing Authority is pleased to announce the recipients of the annual Portland Housing Authority Scholarship. This year, the Portland Housing Authority Scholarship Fund awarded nine scholarships totaling $18,000, made possible in part by a $10,000 grant from KeyBank.

Established in 1987 by the PHA Board of Commissioners, the PHA Scholarship grants awards to Portland Housing Authority clients enrolled in an accredited institution of higher education or career training program. Since 2014, KeyBank has partnered with PHA to invest more than $55,000 in scholarships, which has allowed PHA to increase its support for clients seeking to achieve their higher education goals. Since 1995, approximately 231 awards have been given totaling almost $200,000.

“The Portland Housing Authority cares deeply about supporting opportunities for low-income families to break the cycle of poverty,” said Cheryl Sessions, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority. “The Scholarship awards are an annual highlight of the perseverance and strength of our residents.”

Each year, program applicants display incredible character and perseverance in written essays recounting what they have overcome in their lives, how it has shaped them, and their goals for the future. The following individuals received a Portland Housing Authority Scholarship for 2021:

• Umulkair Mohamed – Umulkair is a recent Deering High graduate headed to Bowdoin College to study Computer Science. She has been an active member of her high school community, the Front Street Study Center, CHEETA project, Cultivating Community, school clubs and sports. She also volunteers at her mosque, Partners for World Health, and an elementary school, all while working to support her family and providing care and transportation for her six younger siblings. Umulkair is an excellent student, having completed several college courses during her junior year as well as honors-level courses all four years.

• Sulwan Ahmed – Sulwan is a rising senior at Bowdoin College majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a minor in Sociology. In addition to excelling at her studies and volunteering with her mosque, she has been tutoring and mentoring ELL students at Deering High School during the pandemic. Sulwan is most proud of becoming a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow- a highly selective national fellowship. She plans to study the displacement of immigrant and low-income communities in Portland due to gentrification and urbanization.

• Muntasir Ahmed – Muntasir is a recent Deering High School graduate who plans to attend Bridgeton Academy this year. He is a star Soccer player seeking to grow the soccer community in the state of Maine, which has developed his leadership skills on and off the field. He mentors freshmen through the Make It Happen Program and became an assistant teacher for an ELL Global Issues class. His references speak of his determination, self-improvement, character, work ethic, and motivation in the highest regard.

• Mlaz Khamis – Mlaz is a recent Portland High School graduate headed to the University of Southern Maine to study Psychology. She has been exceptionally active in the Kennedy Park study Center and CHEETA project for many years, driving community projects such as the study center mural and KP Cookbook. She also volunteers with the Root Cellar, cares for her younger siblings, and has sewn around 50 hats for houseless individuals in Portland.

Notably, Mlaz is also the recipient of the 2021 Allan R. Andrews Scholarship for a Public Housing Resident sponsored by the New England Regional Council of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NERC/NAHRO), of which PHA is a member.

• Jonathan Rugema – Jonathan is a Casco Bay High School graduate headed to Husson University to study Audio Engineering. Following a gap year after high school, Jonathan worked for Abbott Labs producing COVID-19 test kits and was quickly promoted due to the quality of his work. His true passion is for poetry and music, having already released an album. He has been involved in numerous programs around the city and has performed his music to raise money and awareness for social issues.

• Maryam Alhashimi – Maryam is a rising sophomore at the University of New England and twin sister of Iman. She has been in the United States for three years and spends her time helping at home with her siblings, studying, and volunteering with her church. Her references speak to her hard work, iron resolve, and astute observations.

• Iman Alhashimi – Iman is also a rising sophomore at the University of New England. Iman’s references characterize her as the more adventurous sister, taking risks and leading charges. Iman is determined to become a surgeon and loves hands-on work. During the pandemic, she has been studying at home and helping to care for her siblings. Previously, she volunteered with her church, culture, and outdoor clubs.

• Mussie Okbe – Mussie is a nontraditional student who has been attending Southern Maine Community College part-time since the fall of 2019 and is studying Computer Science. He works as a peer tutor at SMCC, volunteers as a math tutor at Portland Adult Education and at Portland High School, and volunteers with his church. He is a dedicated student and committed to helping ELL students and his peers succeed.

• Atia Werah – Atia is a rising senior studying Government and Education at Bowdoin College. She was also selected to be one of five Mellon Mays research fellows in 2020. She is very active in her community through internships, student groups, and virtual volunteerism while also caring for her aunt. She maintains a strong connection to Deering High School by mentoring graduating seniors on applying to college through the volunteer group “HUSSLE,” which she founded with her sister Elwaad. She has maintained a close relationship with the principal of Deering High School, offering advice and ideas to address issues in the school.

Portland Housing Authority Scholarship applications are made available each year in late February. Applications are due by May 15 and include the submission of references, grades, financial aid information (if available), and an essay.


Established in 1943, the Portland Housing Authority and its affiliated corporations provide long-term, affordable fair rental housing and related assistance to more than 3,000 low-income families, seniors, and disabled individuals. It does this primarily through federally funded and regulated programs, including the Foster Youth to Independence Program (FYI) and the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program. In collaboration with community partners, PHA strives to improve quality of life, build community, enhance safety and promote personal success for the people it serves and the neighborhoods in which they reside. For more information, visit http://www.porthouse.org.