We are honored to introduce our 2021-22 class of scholarship recipients and to celebrate their accomplishments in academia, leadership, and community service. In just a few years in the United States, they not only overcame the language barrier and supported their families, but they navigated the complex higher education system in the United States and are now attending University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) campuses across the state. We are inspired by their perseverance and their future goals.

Thank you to our fiscal sponsor, Access California Services, and the UCI Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships for helping us select this year’s scholars and for all their work to ensure that the program is a success. As always, we are grateful to our community donors and the program’s initial supporters, including Karina Hamilton, Peaceful Passions, and Books Not Bombs.

Our program not only hopes to support students financially as they complete their higher education, but to facilitate an enriching college experience through mentorship and professional development opportunities. On November 5th, we held an Awards Ceremony & Networking Dinner for this year’s recipients at UC Irvine along with the UCI Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships and the student organization, Students Advocating For Immigrant Rights & Equity. The event featured graduate students, professors, and professionals representing the recipients’ fields of interest. Thank you to all of our attendees. A special thank you to Mayor Farrah Khan, the International Collegiate Health Initiative, and UCI Beall Applied Innovation.

Please join us in congratulating this year’s recipients!

Raghad Albibi

School: CSU Fullerton
Major: Public Health and Nutrition
Home country: Syria

Raghad is a freshman student at California State University, Fullerton where she is studying Public Health and Nutrition. While in high school, Raghad volunteered at Access California Services, a nonprofit that provides health and human services to refugees, by assisting with toy and school supply drives for refugee families and providing additional administrative support. She has also volunteered at the Fountain Valley Library and at her local mosque. Raghad holds a Career Technical Education certificate in biotechnology and received a Biotechnology Scholar Award from Project Lead the Way. Her story has been featured on AJ Contrast, Al Jazeera’s storytelling platform. 

Raghad fled the Syrian civil war with her family in 2012, after the ongoing violence took the lives of her loved ones and after she experienced a bombing at her school, which left many of her classmates badly injured. After coming to the United States, Raghad had missed several years of her education, but she was determined to make up for it and to also help her family. After finishing her homework, Raghad practiced English as much as she could so that she could translate government documents for her family and assist them with learning English as well. 

Raghad intends to become a doctor and to travel worldwide to provide medical services to underserved communities.

Adam Alabbsi Aljundi

School: UC Irvine
Majors: Political Science and Economics
Home country: Syria

Adam is a senior at UC Irvine where he is studying political science and economics. At UCI, he was accepted into the competitive Summer Academic Enrichment Program where he had the opportunity to research the effects of conspiracies on voter turnout in the United States. Last academic year, he served as a member of the Dean’s Ambassadors Council through which he organized webinars on increasing civic engagement among students. He was also accepted into the UCI School of Social Sciences’ Deconstructing Diversity Initiative through which he will gain a deeper understanding on the impact of race in American society and how communities can improve race relations. Adam also has work experience in account administration, airport management, and security patrol services.

Two and a half years into the Syrian Civil War and as the violence escalated, Adam, at the age of 18, was forced to flee Syria with his family. In the United States, Adam experienced the challenges of learning English, mental health pressures, and having to navigate the job market so that he could support his family, but he has remained committed to his goals of completing his higher education and advancing social justice.

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Adam intends to pursue a joint J.D./Ph.D. program and launch a non-profit project in order to promote human rights, social justice, and equality for all through both advocacy and academia.

Gloria Baroi

School: UC Irvine
Majors: Political Science and Public Health Sciences
Home country: Bangladesh

Gloria is a third-year at UC Irvine where she is studying public health sciences and political science. In addition to her studies for her double majors at UCI, she has served as a fellow for Children Now, an organization that lobbies for pro-children policies in Sacramento. She has also worked with We Make Change USA, a global nonprofit, to connect changemakers with NGOs to help implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Gloria has also been invited by Access California Services, a nonprofit that provides health and human services to refugees, to speak about her work to promote the UN SDGs at a global youth conference, and her story has been featured on AJ Contrast, Al Jazeera’s storytelling platform.

At the age of 12, Gloria fled her home country of Bangladesh with her family after they were targeted due to their faith. Prior to this, Gloria grew up in Thailand where she was inspired by her father’s advocacy and participation in NGOs. In the United States, Gloria experienced financial hardship and the language barrier, but her commitment to ultimately serving as an advocate and public servant, not only led her to attain fluency in English quickly, but also landed her a spot in her high school’s competitive Speech and Debate Team.

After attaining her bachelor’s degrees, Gloria plans to attend law school so that she can create lasting health and public policies that positively impact her community and the world.

Mengxing Chen

School: UC Irvine
Major: Business Administration
Home country: China

Mengxing is a first-year transfer student at UC Irvine where she is majoring in Business Administration. As a community college student, she volunteered at Louie’s Legacy Animal Rescue, a nonprofit animal rescue organization, by assisting with adoption applications and matching rescue animals with foster families. She also worked as a franchise manager for Charleys Philly Steaks, which reinforced her passion for business.

Mengxing fled China in 2015 after many of her family members and neighbors had been continuously violently attacked for protesting against the land reclamation of fish ponds near her home. When she arrived in the United States shortly after graduating from high school, Mengxing faced the challenge of living alone in a new country. She began working as a waitress and cashier to support her higher education. She later enrolled in community college and applied the concepts she learned in her accounting and business classes to increase sales, earning her the position of franchise manager. 

After attaining her bachelor’s degree, Mengxing hopes to start her own business. She also hopes to start her own animal rescue center to support rescue animals and to raise awareness for animal protection. 

Tony Gao

School: UC Irvine
Major: Studio Art (Graphic Design)
Home country: China

Tony is a second-year transfer student at UC Irvine where he is studying Graphic Design (Studio Art). At UCI, he was invited to join the UCI Honors in Art Program and is serving as a Transfer Student Support STEAM Intern, to lead events and promote UC policies to support transfer students in STEAM fields. As a community college student, he served as a TA with the Digital Art Department to support students with visual art and design projects. He also has extensive work experience as a graphic designer; his graphics have been used by companies, marketers, and even by Cinema Without Borders, a platform for independent cinema. Tony has also competed at global animation competitions and his work has been featured at the Vincent Price Art Museum, at the UCI Claire Trevor School of Art online gallery, and in art magazines. 

Given their Christian faith, Tony’s family members were killed and persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party. Tony fled China with his parents in order to practice his faith freely. In the United States, Tony experienced the challenge of having to learn English, but he was able to gain fluency quickly by meeting with the Writing Center and tutors, and practicing as much as he could. 

After graduating from UCI, Tony intends to pursue a graduate degree in Design Media Arts and to ultimately start his own graphic design company to especially serve minority communities.

Beril Gurkas

School: UC Irvine
Major: Computer Science
Home country: Turkey

Beril is a second year student at UC Irvine where she is studying computer science. In high school, Beril was selected as a National Merit Commended Scholar awarded to the top 3-4% of PSAT scorers and was recognized as the top student in her geometry and trigonometry classes. She has also helped facilitate various events with her local Turkish community including annual children’s festivals and interfaith events. At UCI, Beril has kept a near perfect GPA and is currently applying to various research opportunities. 

In 2017, Beril fled Turkey with her family after they faced political persecution and imprisonment. In the United States, Beril’s family initially experienced challenges with their immigration status and could not seek employment. Beril helped her family as much as she could during this difficult time, such as by interpreting government and legal documents and through advocacy at peaceful protests and seminars.

After attaining her bachelor’s degree, Beril hopes to pursue graduate studies and to ultimately work for a leading technology company’s programming and IT team. She particularly aspires to work as a computer scientist for NASA and to close the gap between machine learning and the human brain using artificial intelligence.

Sazan Haji

School: San Diego State University
Major: Biology
Home country: Iraq

Sazan is a first-year transfer student at San Diego State University where she is studying biology. While in high school, she served as president of her class and was invited to attend several leadership conferences. Before enrolling in community college, she volunteered at the Emily’s Medical Group APC as a medical assistant, where her tasks included checking vitals, patients’ backgrounds and preparing rooms for patients. As a community college student, she worked as a pharmacy technician at CVS pharmacy, and she currently works at Walmart Pharmacy to help prepare prescriptions. 

Sazan fled Iraq in 2015 with her family when ISIS was approaching Erbil, Iraq, where she lived. While she had graduated from high school in Iraq, she could not immediately continue her higher education in the United States because of financial pressures. Sazan instead used this time to work and to volunteer, which helped her realize her passion for pharmaceutical sciences and assisting underserved communities. 

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Sazan intends to enroll in pharmacy school and to ultimately serve her community as a pharmacist.

Marina Haliem

School: UC Irvine
Major: Public Health Sciences
Home country: Egypt

Marina is a first-year transfer student at UC Irvine where she is studying public health sciences. She is currently volunteering at the Fountain Valley Regional Hospital to provide support to patients and medical staff and to gain exposure to the hospital setting. While in community college, she completed a research project on COVID-19, including research on early clinical trials and their safety and the relationship between the virus and greenhouse gas emissions. She was also invited to join a pre-health honor society. In high school, she was a part of the Medical Society Club through which she received CPR training, attended seminars led by medical professionals, and toured medical schools, which reaffirmed her passion for medicine. She also volunteered at the Fountain Valley Library where she mentored children and coordinated the summer reading program. Marina has also been recognized for her photography skills and was awarded the Fountain Valley School District’s Student of the Year Award for Photography. 

Marina fled Egypt with her family in 2013 so that they could freely practice their faith. Marina and her family experienced financial challenges at first; her parents’ college degrees were not recognized in the United States, requiring them to take on several low-wage jobs. However, seeing her parents’ sacrifices has only fueled Marina’s commitment to education and success. 

After attaining her bachelor’s degree, Marina plans to attend medical school and to ultimately serve her community as either an OB/GYN or cardiologist. 

Sara Kassab

School: UC Irvine
Major: Biology
Home country: Syria

Sara is a first-year transfer student at UC Irvine where she is studying biology. As a community college student, Sara participated in several programs for academic success in STEM, including the Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) program and Project Lead the Way, a biomedical program. She also has extensive volunteering experience in medicine and dentistry at sites including Care Harbor Los Angeles, where she served as a dental assistant for underserved communities in Los Angeles, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center, where she assisted hospital staff, and with the Syrian American Medical Society to coordinate health fairs. Sara holds a Dental Assistant Certification from the Southern California Regional Occupational Center. 

When she was 11 years old, Sara was visiting the United States with her family. During this time, the civil war in Syria escalated requiring her and her family to apply for asylum. While the language barrier posed a challenge for Sara at first, she was committed to learning English quickly and even stayed after school with her teacher to improve her essay writing skills.

After attaining her bachelor’s degree, Sara intends to apply to dental schools and to ultimately start her own dental practice.

Niloufar Hedayat Nia

School: UC Irvine
Major: Public Health Sciences
Home country: Iran

Niloufar is a second-year transfer student at UC Irvine where she is studying public health sciences. In addition to her studies at UCI, Niloufar works as a part-time medical assistant at a dermatology office, where she performs clinical tasks, including patient care and management and assisting physicians. She has also volunteered at the Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and other health clinics to provide assistance with patient care.

In 2015, Niloufar fled Iran with her family so that they could freely practice their faith. Niloufar initially faced the challenge of learning a new language and adapting to American culture, but she remained committed to learning English quickly and applied to part-time jobs so that she could pursue and finance her higher education, not only as a refugee student, but also as the first college student in her family. 

After attaining her bachelor’s degree, Niloufar intends to apply to physician assistant programs in order to work as a certified physician assistant so that she can deliver community-centered care to her patients, and also inspire other women to pursue healthcare.

Ghina Sabbagh

School: UC Irvine
Major: Public Health Sciences
Home country: Syria

Ghina Sabbagh is a second-year transfer student at UC Irvine where she is studying public health sciences. She was also selected as a Community Outreach Prevention and Education (COPE) Health Scholar where she is gaining clinical and administrative health care experience at the Kaiser Permanente Irvine Medical Center and where she has been acknowledged for her outstanding leadership skills. While in community college, Ghina worked as an Arabic interpreter and office assistant for Care Harbor Los Angeles to provide healthcare services for underserved populations. She has also helped organize fundraising banquets for non-profits and has served as the camp counselor head and manager assistant for a private elementary school. 

Given the ongoing Syrian civil war, Ghina fled to the United States with her mother and her younger siblings in 2016. While it was difficult settling and navigating the healthcare, immigration, and education systems in a new country, especially without her father and older sister who stayed in the Middle East to look for opportunities to support their family, Ghina has remained committed to her higher education goals so that she could better support her family and community.

After completing her physician assistant prerequisites and obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Ghina intends to apply to physician assistant programs and ultimately work as a physician assistant to provide aid and healthcare to underserved communities.