In the Spotlight: April 8 Campus Connections

Student Spotlight
Banah Alhanfy, politics calling

Since moving to Maine from Iraq two years ago, Banah Alhanfy has immersed herself in politics ― as an intern for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, as Pingree’s guest at President Trump’s State of the Union address, and as a political science student at SMCC.

Banah’s move to America drew media attention when she was stranded in Iraq by the president’s controversial executive order that restricted travel to the U.S. from seven countries, including Iraq. Her parents and two sisters had arrived in Maine 10 days earlier, but the travel restrictions kept her in Iraq for an additional week until the confusion could be sorted out.

After Banah made it to Maine in February 2017, Rep. Pingree (in photo with Banah) invited her to be her guest at the president’s State of the Union address in Washington. She was then invited to be an intern in Pingree’s Portland office that summer.

Banah came to SMCC in the fall of 2017 and will earn a degree in Liberal Studies with a focus in Political Science in May. During her time at SMCC, she’s also been involved in politics outside of the classroom, serving as an intern with the League of Women Voters of Maine and again in Rep. Pingree’s office, for the second time.

Come June, she will attend the six-day Maine NEW (National Education for Women) Leadership program at the University of Maine.

Banah plans to continue her education, most likely at either Smith College (where she’s already been accepted) or Amherst College, top-tier liberal arts colleges in western Massachusetts. After completing her education, she hopes to work in politics.

“SMCC has been a beginning for me. It’s a place that’s given me the opportunity to do all these great things while I’ve been in school.”


Alumni Spotlight
Mark Kurkjy, 2nd career

After working in law enforcement for many years, Mark Kurkjy pursued his passion for cooking. Now he has a new career as a chef.

Kurkjy earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University in 2005 and worked for the Dover, Mass., police department, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center police department, the Boston Red Sox and, from 2008 to 2012, the Nevada Highway Patrol.

After moving to Maine with his family in 2012, he worked in retail. But he eventually decided to enroll in SMCC’s Culinary Arts program to prepare for a new career in the kitchen.

Cooking has always been fun for Kurkjy, and it was therapeutic when he was in law enforcement. After having a daughter, family meal time became a special time where he experimented with new ingredients and recipes while developing a passion for cooking.

Kurkjy came to SMCC in 2015, taking culinary classes while working full-time as retail store manager. He earned his degree in 2018.

After graduation, he took a job at 33 Elmwood, a Westbrook establishment that combines bowling, bocce and food. As the sous chef, he’s able to experiment with various dishes, make things from scratch and prepare foods that have gotten glowing reviews (Down East magazine raved about the “top-notch” pork dumplings, crispy Brussels, and pesto gnocchi).

Besides teaching him culinary skills, the culinary program opened doors where Kurkjy could network with chefs in Portland’s thriving restaurant industry.

“I think the school does a great job of putting you into that culinary pipeline. We’re in an area where you can do so many different things with your degree.”