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How One Café is Changing the Culture – and Lives of Students – on Campus

Imira Roussaw (at right, in orange head wrap) offers remarks at the grand opening of the new Saxbys café at the College.For as long as she could remember, Imira Roussaw had her heart set on attending the University of Southern California (USC). A 2021 graduate of Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School, she said at the time it was her dream school. 

Towards the end of her time in high school, Imira recalls her mom telling her about the opportunity to attend Community College of Philadelphia for free through the Octavius Catto Scholarship. 

“It wasn’t speaking to me. I already had this vision of going to California set,” Imira said. 

About a week after that initial conversation with her mom, Imira received another postcard about the benefits of the Catto Scholarship. This time, she decided to give it a shot and submitted her application to the College. She figured that she could always complete her prerequisite courses and then transfer to USC. 

What she didn’t count on was how much she would love it at the College. Halfway through her first semester, she realized that CCP was the perfect fit for her. 

“It had everything I needed,” Imira said. “It was close to home, and I was surrounded by constant support. From my Catto success coaches, advisors and even the security guards. 

“I asked myself, why am I in such a rush? I felt that leaving so soon was not in my heart. I wanted to take advantage of everything the College had to offer.” 

After finally committing to staying at the College, that’s when she learned about the opportunity to serve as the second student CEO (SCEO) for the brand-new Saxbys café in the Library and Learning Commons. While she dismissed the idea at first, she said her success coach, George Walley-Sephes, and Alexis Mercado, the Career Connections Pathway Coordinator for the Catto Scholarship, urged her to strongly consider it. 

After becoming fully settled in college life, she decided to put her application on hold until her second semester. Over the next few weeks, she worked with Alexis to prepare for mock interviews and build upon her public speaking skills. 

“It was a nice experience because I slowly became more confident in myself,” Imira said. “I always knew that I could do it and step into the role.”

After submitting her application, things moved pretty quickly for Imira; she was hired within two weeks. From there she participated in virtual and in-person trainings to prepare her for the role. She even spent a month at Saxbys’ 30th Street Station café under the mentorship of Nysair Brooks, the College café’s inaugural SCEO. Following the grand opening of the café in September, Imira officially began her role as SCEO. 

In this role, Imira runs and manages all aspects of the College’s café, including team development, community outreach initiatives, and the café’s profit and loss statements. She earns invaluable leadership experience in addition to full academic credit and competitive wages.

Throughout her training she learned how to celebrate the little wins like hitting budget sales, being low on waste, and reducing high labor costs. She also learned how to fully step into her own leadership style. 

“As a leader, you have to coach and manage your team to be confident in their abilities,” she said. “Every day will present a new problem or issue. You have to constantly stay grounded and remember the skills you have. Not just for yourself, but for your team who looks to you when things don’t go as planned.”

As a dual Business General major also pursuing a proficiency certificate in Entrepreneurship, Imira is using her time as SCEO to gain hands-on experience in the world of business.  Some of the skills she’s picked up include financial management, effective communication skills, and time management. The most important skill of all, she says, is being open-minded no matter the situation. 

“I’ve learned that everyone is built differently,” Imira said. “You have to invest in each team member differently. Having those communications skills helps me because I have such a close connection with my team. I never scold them, but I let them know that I’m here to uplift them and help them get the work done.

“I’m more than their boss. I’m someone who’s here to guide them, be in their corner, and be a good listener. We don’t dwell on the bad things, but we get up, try again, and start over. I’m learning to become resilient in a fast-paced work environment.”

When it comes to environment, Imira says she’s proud of the culture her and her team are creating on campus. 

“I embrace being a Black woman and my culture every step of the way,” she said. “I let the culture vibe. I never code switch or change my vocabulary. Being my authentic self helps me connect with everyone else. By being able to celebrate our cultures, we get to laugh and share community.

“This has become the new hangout spot for people. Students have a new place to come with great music and food. Lots of clubs wants to host events here. The café is definitely building community and offering options for students.”

So far, she’s hosted events for the College’s Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and a Coffee with the Dean event with Arielle Norment, interim dean of Business & Technology. 

When asked what she has planned after graduating from the College, Imira said, “I want to secure a business internship. I love to write and travel and really want to be able to experience a new environment. Getting out of my comfort zone has been the best way for me to grow. I want to further enhance my skills and figure out what role I want to play in my life. No matter what I decide, I want to use business as a tool to achieve that goal.”

The College’s student-run Saxbys café is open Monday – Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Learn more or place an order online.