Syeda, like her four siblings, excels in her studies. She did so well at Lowell High School that she won a John and Abigail Adams Scholarship to attend a state university. UMass Lowell also offered her a co-op scholarship to do research with a faculty member after her freshman year, and she was invited to join the Honors College. She accepted.
“I wanted to push myself to be better. The Honors College is tougher — it’s more work,” she says. “I also wanted to do an undergraduate thesis, because it would push me to create something new and prepare me for graduate school.”
Nizami is double-majoring in English and psychology and has already completed her honors thesis, which combines both disciplines: a study of the relationship between mental illness and creativity in the writings of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. She expects to graduate in 2018.
Next up for Nizami: applying to law school. She also plans to pursue graduate studies in psychology. She’s thankful that a series of scholarships, research fellowships and work-study jobs have paid for most of her education at UMass Lowell, because she can now afford a career serving others instead of working to pay off high student loans.
“I really want to help people by working in civil rights or human rights,” she says. “I want to be an advocate for people who don’t have voices.”
She chose to work with Research Prof. David Turcotte in the Center for Community Research and Engagement for her co-op scholarship. She edited the "Merrimack Valley Housing Report" and helped with Turcotte’s studies of asthma in public and low-income housing, and she continues to do occasional work for him, writing articles for the housing report.
As an Emerging Scholar through the Center for Women and Work, she helped Asst. Prof. Yana Weinstein with research on whether posters and videos about effective study strategies could improve college students’ study skills. Nizami presented her research at the 20th annual Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium.
A pair of Honors College fellowships with the university libraries taught Nizami archival and research skills, and got her an ongoing library job.
First, she helped digitize and catalog materials donated to the Kerouac Room at the libraries’ Center for Lowell History. Next, she worked on a guide to the libraries’ collections of Lowell literary journals. Now she works with The Learning Force, a group creating library guides for open-source materials that professors can use to replace or supplement textbooks in certain courses. It’s a pilot project aimed at reducing students’ textbook costs.
“I got to cultivate new skills. I learned so much,” Nizami says.
The fellowships also introduced her to Mehmed Ali, assistant director of digital initiatives for the university libraries, who became one of her thesis advisers along with English Assoc. Prof. Keith Mitchell.
With all of her studies and classwork, Nizami still finds time to have fun. She’s co-editor of "The Offering," the English department’s literary journal. And in her spare time?
“I love to write. I’ve written novels.”