StanGrad: Assyrian Refugee Plants Roots, Pursues Education

Note: This article is a continuation of the StanGrad series, highlighting CSU Stanislaus students who graduated at commencement ceremonies May 30 and 31. Click here for more.

Peter Ishaya was a toddler living with his family in Baghdad during the Gulf War in 1991. The family fled to Jordan in 1993 and attained refugee status from the United Nations to facilitate a move to Canada in 1995.

They eventually reunited with extended family in California, landing in Turlock when Ishaya was still just 9 years old. Despite their many travels and travails, Ishaya and his family planted roots here — roots so deep that Ishaya chose to remain in town for his college education, including graduate studies.

Ishaya graduated from CSU Stanislaus in May with a bachelor's degree in political science, and he's now enrolled in the university's Master of Public Administration program. He said the decisions to pursue higher education and to do so locally, to remain near his family, were easy ones.

"My parents sacrificed pursuing their dreams so that my sister and I could enjoy a life in an environment free of violence and sectarianism," Ishaya said. "The least I could do for myself and for my parents was continue my education."

Ishaya, a Pitman High School graduate, said his family's history instilled in him a fascination with the political processes and institutions of the United States. He chose to major in political science and became active both on and off campus.

He participated twice in the Model United Nations course at CSU Stanislaus and is an active member of the Masonic lodges in Turlock and Modesto. He has interned and volunteered with a number of organizations, including the International Rescue Committee, the Stanislaus County Democratic Party and the Bet-Nahrain Cultural Center in Ceres. He was recently involved in a World Refugee Day event in Modesto that was featured in The Modesto Bee.

Ishaya also plays the flute and the Zurna — a Turkish oboe — and has played Assyrian music at weddings, engagements and other events throughout California and in Arizona. As he begins the next chapter of his academic life, Ishaya said he's grateful for the opportunities he's found in the U.S. and at CSU Stanislaus.

"The university offered everything I was looking for, from a beautiful campus to an exceptional faculty with a passion for education," he said. "I am so thankful that my parents chose to raise me and my sister here."

#StanGrad File

Name: Botrus Johnny "Peter" Ishaya
Hometown: Baghdad (now Turlock)
Degree/Credential: B.A. in Political Science

What memories stand out most from your time at CSU Stanislaus?

"Along with meeting classmates and forming new relationships in the political science, the best memory I have is participating at the Model United Nations conference the past two years. I was entrusted to lead the U.S. delegation this year and worked with team members from the history and political science departments."

Which faculty or staff member had the greatest impact on you, and why?

"Gerard Wellman has been a very influential mentor and convinced me to apply to the Master of Public Administration program. His uncanny ability to make me think critically inside and outside the classroom and the in-depth knowledge he continues to share with me and other students has left a lasting imprint."

What advice would you give to current and future students?

"Take advantage of your professors' office hours and get to know them. Apply concepts and theories you learn in the classroom to everyday life. Think critically, and question what you've been taught. Get involved in the community as an intern or volunteer. And lastly, network as much as you can. The only way you can chase your dream job is to get out and network."