New Grad Changes Course After NOVA Reignites Her Passion for STEM 

June 29, 2023

Sadia Jahir Annona, a recent NOVA graduate, was the last student to walk across the stage at NOVA’s May 15 commencement. Sadia is the consummate over achiever—she was a dedicated student, Gilman Scholar and the voice of students to the College’s administration as student liaison to the College Board.

 Sadia Annona

While at NOVA, she studied international relations as a liberal arts major. Then she took some STEM classes, which ended up reviving her love for science and mathematics. Now she is pivoting her college career from international relations to neuroscience as she transfers to George Mason University. Currently, she's working with her advisors at Mason to make that change.   

Meanwhile, Sadia is a Gilman scholar. In May, she became one of four new Gilman scholars from NOVA who now have an opportunity to study abroad. This coming January, she will head to Santiago, Chile, to study clinical practices in hospitals there. She wants to understand how medical institutions outside the United States function and treat different populations, like women, children and minorities.  

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:   
My parents were both born and grew up in Bangladesh. My dad completed his bachelor's degree there. But here, he works as a bartender in hospitality, and my mom is a stay-at-home mom. 

One of the most impactful clubs I joined in high school was Girl Up, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation. Its focus is creating equity in health, education and other sectors of life for girls outside the Unied States. I think that's what inspired me in college to seek out student leadership experiences. 

As a NOVA freshman, I joined student government in the fall of 2021 and was a senator for a year. Then I became VP of the Annandale Campus' Student Government Association (SGA). I really enjoyed my time there and learned what student leadership is like. 

Then I joined the Student Government Association Council (SGAC), which bridges all six campus student governments. In addition, I applied to become the student liaison to the College Board. This liaison acts as a bridge to the College Board, the student body and the student government. I tried to diversify my roles because I was very interested in developing my advocacy skills. At the time, I imagined myself in international relations. I'm very interested in social justice issues. That's why I went into liberal arts.

But in the natural science classes I took at NOVA, I fell in love with STEM all over again. At T.C. Williams High School (now Alexandria City High School), I was in a four-year STEM program that exposes you to a lot of different STEM industries. I've always really loved the sciences all through my life. That’s why I feel that you remain the same person through the years, but you evolve into a more mature person.  

What brought you to NOVA? 
I came to NOVA right after graduating from high school in 2021.  

I graduated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and my dad had lost his job, so my family and I looked for a more affordable way to pursue my higher education goals. Accessibility for education is why community colleges such as NOVA, are so valuable. 

What are you studying at NOVA?  
I graduated in May 2023 with an associate degree in liberal arts. I’m transferring to George Mason University and switching to a STEM-related major. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.  
Despite being told that community college wouldn't provide me with opportunities to join supportive groups, I've discovered quite the opposite is true. The Office of Student Life at NOVA does an excellent job of fostering clubs and activities that engage students. Being part of student government, starting the Fabric Arts Club and being a Philosophy Club member, I definitely felt like I was part of a community.  

One of my favorite professors at NOVA is Steven Stakland. I took his Introduction to Philosophy and Logic course. A passion marks his pedagogy for making meaningful connections with his students and meeting them where they are. He is in a rare class of professors that makes me excited to come into the classroom and join the discussions. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?  
If you intend to transfer to a four-year institution, your sights should be set on your academics. Know that every campus has free tutoring available, online or in-person, so use that to your advantage. However, while keeping your grades up, there is equal value in finding a club, organization or job on campus that supports your personal, academic and/or career interests. Visit the Office of Student Life and your campus’ Student Government to get an idea of how you can engage in the NOVA community. 

Getting any job experience during college is great, but I recommend getting a job on campus. By doing that, you can learn more about NOVA and the different communities that constitute your college. That’s what I did. I started by working at the Annandale Campus bookstore. Then I worked at the admissions office on campus, where I guided students through NOVA’s application process. In that role, I met students from all walks of life. NOVA takes in students that are escaping wars, dealing with hardships or are looking for a career change. It was so fulfilling to help them in their next steps.  

Also, I decided to start a club, the Fabric Arts Club. It was just pure interest and to find another way to connect with people at the College. I was doing classes and had a job at NOVA, but I wanted to find a way to make friends, not just coworkers and classmates. 

I found that almost everyone in college is just as lost, confused or alone as the next person, but it is important not to isolate yourself. Try to find the student life office because they are always doing things to engage students.   

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? 
Before graduating from NOVA, I had fully intended to major in international relations. However, I have rekindled my interest in science and math-based majors. I am working on a plan with advisors from George Mason University to pivot from international studies to a STEM major. 

Since I've been interested in biology, I made an advising appointment with the Department of Neuroscience at George Mason University and then pre-health. At the moment, I am exploring my options. 

The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship is an undergraduate scholarship program for U.S. citizens or nationals of limited financial means to enable them to study or intern abroad. The program provides awards of up to $5,000 for students who are U.S. citizens, Federal Pell Grant recipients and studying at the undergraduate level at a two- or four-year institution. In the past three years alone, NOVA has had an impressive 14 students receive this highly competitive scholarship for a total of 16 students since program inception in 2001! In fall 2022, of the eight who applied, five received the scholarship. For spring 2023, four have been awarded the prestigious scholarship. We are here to help NOVA students be the next recipient! 

For more on the Gilman Scholarship, contact Leeza Fernand, associate director of the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs, 

Topics: international connections, featured article, scholarship and research, student success