Koehler Award: Albanian native excels in leadership roles
Growing up in her native Albania in southeastern Europe, Bora Ajdini dreamed of becoming an English teacher in her home country. An opportunity to study at Lakeland University led to her becoming a mentor and role model on a global scale.
Ajdini’s myriad of Lakeland leadership roles and ability to mentor and motivate others led to her being named the winner of the 58th annual Clarence H. Koehler Award, the university’s top award for undergraduate students. She received the award Wednesday at Lakeland’s annual Honors Banquet.
The Koehler Award is presented each year to a Lakeland senior who best exemplifies “The Lakeland Spirit” through participation in and support of the university’s programs and activities. To be eligible, graduates must complete a majority of their undergraduate courses at Lakeland and maintain a high level of academic achievement.
The other finalists for the 2023 Koehler Award were Emily Bird, Mallory Black, Rhett Botzet, Amber Bush, Lauren Downs, Riley Jahnke and Michaela Schmitz.
Ajdini (pronounced (ai-dini), who will graduate in May with a bachelor of arts degree and a double major in communication and Spanish, was introduced to Sheboygan County as a senior at nearby Plymouth High School for the 2018-19 school year.
At Lakeland, she quickly discovered Global Student Association (GSA), an organization committed to supporting different cultures on campus. She helped bring back the popular International Night celebration last year and guided it again this past weekend as the organization’s president, the first of many leadership roles to come.
“I thought ‘This is so cool, there’s a place for me,’” said Ajdini, who speaks Albanian, Italian, Turkish and Spanish in addition to English. “I never thought I would be in charge. It’s so humbling. It was inspiring to observe students who were not part of GSA coming together and participating in something meaningful collectively.”
Her involvement in GSA served was a steppingstone to a series of positions that have allowed her to positively impact her peers and the campus.
Ajdini was elected to a cabinet position in Student Government Association, was a founding member of the Alpha Phi Iota co-ed fraternity, served as a Blue & Gold Champion for new student orientation and as an Academic Coach, helping students improve their communication skills.
After serving as a resident assistant, Ajdini was named RA of the Year and promoted to Senior RA as she found a new outlet for her passion of helping others.
“I discovered my love for student success,” Ajdini said. “I was able to mentor students in becoming the best versions of themselves while simultaneously guiding them to achieve their own college dreams.
“I’m happy I’m the sort of person that people can come to and ask questions. It’s really shown me what kind of leader I want to be.”
Additionally, Ajdini served an internship with Partners for Community Development, Inc., as an interpreter, and she is conducting a study on refugees in Milwaukee in an effort to better understand their integration process in American society. She works as digital media supervisor for LU’s student-run newspaper, The Mirror, and she previously served as a convocation monitor and registrar’s office assistant.
“I was never not doing something,” Ajdini said. “That’s how you learn the true Lakeland spirit. I can truly say that I left everything on the table during my time here.”
Aimee Burns, an assistant professor of communication at Lakeland, said Ajdini is a role model for her peers.
“Our Lakeland community enthusiastically recognizes her ability to create spaces where all are seen and supported to build a sense of belonging wherever she goes,” Burns said. “Through her tireless work in a variety of roles, Bora has set the highest example for all her fellow Muskies to seize every opportunity our campus has to offer.”
Draw a straight line from Albania, located on southeastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, and Sheboygan County and they’re just over 5,000 miles apart. Ajdini hasn’t just found a place to hone her skills, but she’s found a second home.
“Lakeland has truly been a dream come true,” she said. “I learned how different America is from what I thought. I met people with massive hearts, people who guided me, supported me and, most importantly, loved me every day for four years.
“I found people who did not doubt my abilities even when I was doubting myself. I found people who were willing to build all the channels possible for me to showcase myself and my culture. I found my Albanian dream in America.”
Other winners announced at the Honors Banquet include: