Youth Profiles 2014-15


2015-16 Posse Scholar, Smith College - STEM

Currently a senior at a public school in Queens, Selena will be attending Smith College as a Posse Scholar in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields this fall. She has been an active participant in SAYA!’s after school program as well as its Chalo College program, its Futures & Options Internship Program and its Desi Girls Citywide Conference 2014.

She sits down with SAYA!'s College Advisor, Samara Ahmed, to talk about her journey so far and share her thoughts about this exciting new phase of her life. 

How did it feel when you learned that SAYA! had nominated you for the Posse Scholarship?

I felt honored because I’ve been very dedicated to SAYA! and they’ve also been very helpful to me. Whenever I need any advice -- for anything -- I can always count on Janine and Riti. Janine always helps me with college information and basically with any question that may come my way, and I would come to see Riti about once a week to discuss what’s going on in school and my activities. When I first started out at SAYA! I was a little shy. They helped me open up. And when they nominated me, I just felt honored because they had acknowledged my hard work. It meant a great deal to me.

How did you prepare for the interview rounds? And how did SAYA! help prepare/support you through this process?

For the interview Janine helped prep me with some of the questions. She sat with me and did a mock interview. She gave me some very helpful tips as well. Asad also asked me some challenging questions, and I think he liked the way I tried to answer them. I tried to answer the questions differently from what I thought would would be ordinary. Personally, I like to be honest and realistic. I know sometimes as much as you practice, you still might not know what they’ll ask you. But as long as you’re honest, as long as you’re telling the truth, and as long as you’re not lying about who you are, you’ll be fine. Speak from who you are as a person, and hopefully they’ll like you in the end. If they see something in you, you'll be lucky enough to get picked. I was fortunate enough to be chosen.

One thing that SAYA! really helped me with in preparation for the interview was just saying that it was okay if I didn't make it to the next round. Janine and Sonia told me that I should be proud of myself for making it this far and that they  was proud of me as well. I think just having that support system of SAYA! and also from my own family made me feel better and lifted some of the pressure off of my shoulders. I went in satisfied with whatever the outcome turned out to be.

Are you excited to attend Smith next fall?

Yes, I am very excited. When I visited in April for the Spring Preview with Janine it was a great experience. I didn’t really know too much about Smith before, especially it being an all-girls school. But then I learned about the classes offered and their reputation and I fell in love with the school. Also after just being there I felt I could go to college there. I felt very inspired. All the girls there just seem so different. And I knew since it’d be all-girls there’d more competition, so now I’m very excited for that too. I like some competition and being challenged. And I’m also excited about how they empower women and the message behind that. They make women feel confident about themselves.

Are you really passionate about women/gender rights?

Yes, I am actually. I think we should all be equal, especially in the job markets today. We have the same education and degree, yet we don’t get paid high enough. In fact, I was actually just talking about this recently. We had a meeting for one of the clubs I’m in and that was one of the topics -- how women don’t get recognized for what they do. I think that’s important. We’re just as important as men and we’re just as capable of doing things as them. As women we have so much potential to make a difference in the world.

Do you have any advice for people applying for scholarships now?

I think the hardest thing to do is to start, because that’s something I struggle with too. There are the little scholarships that I’m trying to do right now. And just finding the time to do it, is the most difficult part because I have exams to study for, loads of homework, and extracurricular activities to take part in. It’s hard. But I feel that you just have to give yourself that first push because if you don’t start sooner or later, you’re not going to get anywhere. Sometimes you have to prioritize what's important. For scholarships, you have to start somewhere. And there are so many scholarships out there.

I know people used to tell me, look online, on Fastwebs, and, there are so many scholarships. And I’d be like “I can’t find any.” For most of the ones I found at first, I wasn't sure whether or not they were legitimate. My classmates would tell me the weirdest ones, for your eye color, for your race. And I’d ask “Where do you find them?” You just have to ask around and ask questions, because there are so many people who know things but they might now know how to approach you with it, or they might not know if you need help in the first place. So just reach out, and talk to your counselor. Tell them what you're interested in. That’ll help with scholarships.

Looking back, what’s one thing you wish you knew during the college application process?

I wish someone had told me how realistic it is, and how much it’d be like the real world. When you’re in high school, you’re kind of secluded from everything, and you don’t know what’s going on. You're in this safety net and as much as you feel prepared for the world out there, you come to realize that there is so much more that you have to learn. And then I hit senior year and everyone was telling me “It’s gonna be easy” but it really wasn’t. The first 6 months were very difficult, because you have all these things that you don’t know. You're expected to map out and plan your life while in the meantime you're still trying to find out who you are and juggle with school work. I feel that I'm so young and I don't know what exactly I want to do with my life. In my school we have so many students. We have about 900 to 1000 seniors alone. It’s hard to get the counselors to know you. So it’s just a matter of reaching out. The first few weeks of school, I went to my college counselor, introduced myself and just told her what colleges I planned on applying to. Because you know, how is she going to remember me out of all these students? I think you just have to put your best foot forward. It’s hard for them to reach out to you because they’re so many students. I think you have to form that relationship with your counselor so that you feel comfortable going to them with any questions.

I wish someone had also told me that it was going to be okay. Because I was kind of worried the entire time. I didn't know what the outcome would have turned out to be and I felt so afraid of the future. Especially now, all my friends are focused on what college they’re going to. But it’s going to end up okay in the end. No matter where you go, most likely you’re going to be accepted into a school, and it doesn’t matter where you end up attending. As long as you have a strive or motive to go somewhere and as long as you’re determined to accomplish something I think everything will turn out fine in the end. And yes, sometimes people desire to go to a school that’s prestigious or what not. But I feel at the end of the day, I don’t want to be in debt, and have to deal with that when I’m older.  I think that’s something a lot of people don’t realize. I have some friends who are are not considering applying to CUNY schools. But I tell them that’s important to consider too. You could go there for your minor credits and then transfer later if want to go to a another school. I think there are so many options that paths to take along the journey.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Honestly, I don’t really see myself as a leader. I don’t know why people tell me that. But I guess as a leader you don’t have to be obvious and  you don’t have to be known, as long as you have an impact and it helps someone else be a leader then to me that's all that matters. I think if you motivate someone to do good in the world, regardless of the size of the impact or if you inspire them to help others as well, that’s more important than actually being known.

You could be quiet and still be a leader. You can be shy or not as outspoken. I think that’s probably the thing people always think you have to be -- you have to be outspoken and vocal. But it’s more important to speak through your actions. It’s easy to say you’ll do something, but it's harder to actually do it. Also, some people think that in order to be a leader you have to make a big change in the world and make a distinct difference. I think that every small change is a big difference because eventually they add up. A small change can go a long way.

Also, whenever I make a decision I take everything into consideration. I'm very open-minded. So especially with managing the 4-H club at my school, I make sure everyone has their say. Equality is very important, especially when it comes to leadership. Because you don’t just want to dictate everything. You have to be considerate of everyone else around you and value their opinions.

Anything else you want to include?

It might sound like a cliche, but nothing is impossible. If you’re really determined to do something, it’ll happen. I doubted myself so many times in life. I’d always say I’d never be able to do anything, or accomplish what I’ve accomplished. I never thought I would get chosen for Posse, and when I got chosen I was just so shocked and grateful and thankful. It doesn’t hurt to try. I tell that to my friends who don’t like to apply for scholarships because they think it’s a one in a million chance that they’d get it. But you never know, you could be that one person, and it’s worth a shot. Especially if you do try, even if you don’t win, you still learn something from it and that’ll still help you. It’s not all about winning sometimes.

And also just reaching out to people and asking for help. Sophomore year I was very alone. And I think if I had just reached out to more people and asked them for help or asked them questions I would have been happier and more involved. Sometimes I would just go home after school, because I didn’t know where else to go. For clubs especially -- just starting to go into clubs, I didn’t know anybody, so I didn’t want to go and feel like an outsider. So just ask a friend or somebody in your class and that’ll help make you feel more comfortable. Try to take a chance and step out of your boundaries. It may be tough at first, but it'll benefit so much in the end.


2015-16 Questbridge Scholar, Yale University - Biology/Pre-Med

Tasnim is off to Yale University this year as a Questbridge Scholar intending to be a pre-med Biology major. She has participated in a wide range of SAYA! programs such as the Futures & Options Internship Program, Desi Girls, SAT Prep, Chalo College and SAYA!’s Collegebound Institute. She was also a participant in SAYA!’s Desi Girls Citywide Conference 2014.

She looks back on the college application process and shares her hopes for college with SAYA!'s College Advisor, Samara Ahmed.

Congratulations on your acceptance to Yale! That’s so exciting. How does it feel knowing where you’ll be next year?

It’s very surreal being on the other side of the application process. This was the moment I’d been preparing for all this time, and now that it’s done — now that I’ve been accepted to my top school — it’s like a dream come true. The pressure has been lifted, and now I’ve just got to work towards the goal of actually going to college and doing better there. I think I still haven’t grasped the concept of not preparing for something so big anymore.

Is there a particular aspect about college that you’re excited about?

Yes. That particular aspect would be just having a lot of diverse options of courses I’d be able to take. Aside from the prerequisites, there are a bunch of other, different courses I could take that you’ve never even thought of. Those are the ones I’m really looking forward to experience. I had a Harvard interview recently, and my interviewer gave me information about some of the courses offered. She said there were courses that are so specific that it would just talk about how your vision allows you to perceive different sceneries. And how it goes through your brain which processes it for you to see the image. Stuff like that. And it’s just so specific. And there’s just one course specifically for that particular aspect of science. That’s very interesting. I could imagine the other options that would be available to me.

That, and also to be around various, different kinds of people. Since it’s an Ivy League school, it’s like a global microcosm of pretty much the whole world, and every kind of person. Of people from different diversities and ethnicities, and people who’ve accomplished all sorts of different things. So I’m really looking forward to being in that kind of environment.

How did SAYA! help you prepare for college?

SAYA! has prepared me a lot, especially in the most important aspects of the college application process. The first thing that attracted me to SAYA! was the SAT Prep program. My counselor recommended me for this program and I saw it was at SAYA! Along with it came the leadership programs and various community-service acquiring opportunities that were available here. I felt as if SAYA! provided the whole package for you to have a foundation for the college application process. Not to mention, there were always tutors to help you and college guidance officers to help with applications, and essay-writing tutors and everything. That foundation I felt was perfect for me as a junior, because SAYA! had all the different elements to prepare a student specifically for college. So I joined for the SAT prep program and I increased my SAT score by 320 points. It was a great program, and along with it I participated in the leadership programs that really opened my eyes. And my second essay for Yale was actually about one of the leadership programs and the essay writing class.

So do you see yourself as more of a leader because of SAYA!?

Of course, because I think SAYA! has made me become more aware of the society around me. I took part in the Desi Girls leadership program last year, and it’s made me a little more ambitious than I was before. Stepping out of my comfort zone of just studies and home, SAYA! was another place where I could explore the society around me and perceive all the different situations [in my life]. We used to talk about gender discrimination and how society would perceive women. And then we sought out problems and solutions of how to help underprivileged women in our society. Not just here, but in a global aspect as well. So I was able to relate some of that to back home in Bangladesh, where a lot my cousins and friends have been getting married already, and are not thinking about education anymore. So that’s something that really connected with me. I felt as if SAYA! has made me more aware of situations around me. It has really prepared me to take charge of those situations.

Is there anything you think SAYA! can do even better to help people throughout the college application process?

In terms of a foundation for preparing students for colleges, SAYA! already has that. But maybe in terms of encouraging students to go out there and step out of their comfort zones even more, and actually help students possibly go out into the communities and look for opportunities. And also to aim high, because I know a lot of people don’t do that. I’ve only been in America for 2 years now. And for a person like me with a low socio-economic position, nobody really would have imagined that I would be accepted to Yale. Not even me at first. But I aimed really high. I knew that I wanted to go to a prestigious school with really good academics because I needed a strong science foundation. And I aimed high, and now here I am. And it feels surreal, it’s an amazing feeling. So I think SAYA! and everyone else around students should prepare them to aim high.

So that’s your advice to students applying now? Aim high?

Yes, of course. Aim high. You never know where you’d end up. Because I personally did not have the most amazing SAT scores. And I know that’s something that holds a lot of students back from applying to these universities. But you never know what happens, because you never knew which particular person is reading your application. It could be someone that’s very young that graduated a year ago from college. Or it could be someone very old and is very old-fashioned in their style of thinking. You never really know. So why not apply, why not attempt something? The only thing that could come out of it is probably good. And if you do get rejected, it’s not the end of the world.

Is there any particular subject that you want to study? I know you mentioned you were interested in science.

I’ve chosen my major in Biochemistry. I do hope to pursue a pre-med track. But I know that options are available for students that are in the pre-med track, because I know that you don’t really have to major in a science course to be pre-med, or go to medical school.

So for now it’s Biochemistry, but I don’t know. Maybe I’ll change my major when I actually go to college and am exposed to all these amazing courses and opportunities. I’m open to options.

Looking back, what’s one thing you wish knew during the college application process?

That would definitely be preparing for the SATs and other standardized tests, such as the ACTs and the subject tests. I was in my junior year when everything was revealed to me. I was introduced to someone, and she started talking about colleges and mentioned the SATS. Up until then, I used to think the SATS were only taken by students in the 12th grade. But then she drops this bomb on me that no, SATS are supposed to be taken by juniors first, and then you see how you go from there. So I started preparing right away.

If I knew about it before, I probably would have started preparing for it before I started high school. Since this is a test to see how you take the test, it’s not really a measure of your intellect. Anybody could get a full SAT score of 2400, even people with really low GPA scores, because they’ve had the specific training for a long time. They’ve obviously done a lot better than other students with higher GPAs. It hasn’t affected me this, but I definitely would have liked to have a higher score on the SATs.