Sarah Youseff, NOVA student and Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholar Semifinalist recently presented with Dr. Kress on ‘The Hill’s’ ‘The Future of Education’. The panel discussed challenges teachers, parents and students face during the pandemic.
Youseff, originally born in the US but raised in Syria, and then fled with her family during the Syrian War to Dubai talks about how she eventually came to NOVA and where she plans on going with her education.
What was your background like?
I am American Syrian and lived in Syria during the war.
From when I was 11 to 17, my family and I struggled due to dangerous situations. In Syria, we had no electricity, and there were water shortages. It was super dangerous due to bombs, and I had almost died due to the bombings and shootings.
In 2017, my parents moved to give us a better future. We moved to Dubai to start a new life. Afterward, I had to either pick to go back to Syria for the future of my education or to come to the unknown United States and see how I can go to college.
What brought you to NOVA?
When I first arrived here in America, I knew I needed financial support as most school tuitions were so high. I worked at World Market for six months to save money. There, I heard a lot about NOVA.
I went to an English institution in Virginia while working for those six months, and then I applied to NOVA because it is so famous, and you always hear about it everywhere. I took a placement test and was able to take more English courses.
I saw so many students who were engaged in clubs and communities and wanted to be like them. In my first year, I was shy and insular. Then I started to join those clubs and make friends.
What really made you enjoy NOVA?
I would see so many groups and students joining clubs and at first thought I couldn’t do it. I wanted to be like those people who were very engaged. One day, I told myself I would.
I joined an ambassador program and was told to volunteer for three months before getting the job. As COVID hit, it was hard for the manager to hire me at that time, so I volunteered for two extra months, which was fine. Money wasn’t the main reason I applied, so I didn’t mind it.
During my first ambassador year, and during my main engagements, I built my network – all online. I then ran for student government. I had to get elected and get votes. Luckily my friends voted, and so I became the Student Government Association President.
Afterward, some advisors told me to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship. I knew a lot of my other friends applied, too. I applied, and then I got selected as a semifinalist.
What are your educational goals?
Since I was a child, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. My father is a doctor, and most of my family are. That’s not my main reason. My main reason is I want to help people. I’ve seen people dying in Syria, and it was tragic. I feel like being a doctor would help. I am dreaming of doing that.
I am starting with an Associate degree in science at NOVA, and then plan to finish my bachelor’s and then go to medical school. I currently got acceptances from George Mason, University of Maryland and Clarkson University. I have further applied to UVA, Cornell and GW. I am waiting to see which school will give me the most support.
How was the shift to online learning for you?
During the online learning, and during my life in America, it wasn’t really easy, but NOVA took care of everything. We all shifted online within one week. They made sure that students were notified and that professors got their training for the virtual transition. Personally, the online learning is one of my greatest experiences.
Dr. Kress used panels with us and made sure we were still a part of the conversation. NOVA supported students with grants and made sure that we got them. That experience was great for me.
What would you tell an incoming NOVA student?
I realized that many other students have hard lives. NOVA advisors and faculty members helped me do all that I wanted to accomplish. I took advantage of the diversity around here.
I would tell incoming NOVA students to get to know as many students as you can. The diversity here is something that you do not see everywhere.
I liked meeting friends from Afghanistan, Africa or the Middle East who had my same struggles. And I learned a lot from them. That was an opportunity for me to learn.
I have three friends who are also in the SGA and are Jack Kent Cooke finalists, and I appreciate them so much. I got more encouraged to apply. I wish for all four of us to get it. If not, I would be so happy if at least one of us got it. I am so proud of my friend group. Khadra Omar is a mom, an SGA member and a student ambassador. Maram Baider is an SGA member and PTK president. Divine Tsasa Nzita who works full time and is an SGA member. All of them are so nice and so hard working and they deserve it.
I just want to tell incoming NOVA students to just reach out. Advisors and other students are here for you. NOVA is a great opportunity to get engaged and there are many different clubs and activities to do.
When I started from scratch, little by little I began to get engaged. Everything will come your way eventually.
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.