When Dana Ibrahim learned that she’d been accepted into the Honors College, she screamed with joy.
She did not have an easy path.
Ibrahim’s family came to the United States as refugees from Iraq in 2010, when she was 17 years old. After a year at Lawrence High School, she started studying at Middlesex Community College, but struggled with some of her classes because her command of English was shaky.
She transferred to Northern Essex Community College for its new eye doctor assistant program, thinking it would be practical. But she was unable to complete her practicum in Boston because she could not afford the daily train fare. Her ambition went against the traditions of her family, so she had to figure out her future on her own.
“If you’re a girl, you’re expected to live at home until you get married – and that’s it,” she says.
Ibrahim only became more ambitious. She left school and went to work so she could become financially independent. Then she returned to Middlesex, completing an associate degree in global studies with excellent grades – and transferred to UMass Lowell, after considering colleges with international relations and similar programs across the country.
Ibrahim chose to major in peace and conflict studies here, an interdisciplinary program with a strong international focus that combines classes in politics, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy and more. She’s also double-majoring in political science and minoring in Arabic studies so she can pursue a future in diplomacy or working with a refugee agency.
“It sounds crazy, but I looked at every course at every college,” she says. “Each class here made me so excited. Peace and conflict studies is the perfect program for what I want to do, because it’s very flexible.”
Given her interests, Jason Carter, the peace and conflict studies coordinator, encouraged her to take his International Experience class and join the International Relations Club. She traveled with the club to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a Model United Nations competition in her first semester, where she helped UMass Lowell win the award for best team.
Ibrahim also wanted to join the Honors College to challenge herself and to take advantage of academic enrichment opportunities, including honors study abroad courses in Cuba and Spain.
Ibrahim plans to stay at UMass Lowell an additional year for her master’s degree in peace and conflict studies, when she will finally get to complete a practicum. She’s already reached out to agencies in Lowell that aid refugees.
“This program lets you learn while you get experience. The practicum gives you relationships, networking – everything you need to get a career,” she says. “You’re not just getting a degree; you’re building your future as you go.”
And her parents have come around.
“They saw that I left home for opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” she says. “They’re more understanding and supportive now.”