First-Generation Student Turned Honor Graduate Credits Her Mother’s Support

Leena GhaniBy Sam Starnes

Nur Syazleena “Leena” Ghani has a definitive plan for the message she will write on her mortarboard before she receives her psychology degree from Rutgers University–Camden.

“It’s going to say ‘Thanks, Mom,’” says Ghani, a Gibbstown resident who is on track to graduate summa cum laude from the Rutgers–Camden College of Arts and Sciences at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden on May 17. “She really supported me through everything.”

Ghani has recorded a perfect 4.0 grade-point average at Rutgers–Camden since transferring from Rowan College at Gloucester County College in 2015 after earning an associate’s degree in psychology. A graduate of Paulsboro High School, she has been inducted in the Psi Chi, the national honor society for psychology, and the Order of Omega, an honor society recognizing academic success and leadership in inter-fraternity activities.

She says she never would have been able to achieve all she has without the support of her mother, Sahra Bahri, who inspired and encouraged her throughout her college journey.

“My mom has been really big on going to college and getting good grades,” says Ghani, who was born in Singapore and moved to the United States at the age of three with her mother and brothers. “I’m a first-generation college student. She’s really proud.”

A Productive Two Years

In only two years at Rutgers–Camden, Ghani has made quite a mark, working in the Office of Student Involvement and helping to found a new sorority on campus. She and fellow students Naciye Cakir and Saidie Lopez founded a chapter of the Omega Phi Chi Multicultural Sorority in the fall semester.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Ah, this makes sense.’ Naciye is Turkish, I’m Singaporean, and Saidie is Puerto Rican. The diversity is something I like about being here. There is not just one face when you think of Rutgers–Camden.”

Finding her Future

Ghani’s plan after graduation is to earn a master’s degree in social work and become a social worker in inner-city schools, a goal that was shaped by a civic engagement experience in an Urban Education course she took in the fall 2016 semester.

She says the course’s weekly project of working with fifth graders in an aftercare program in a Camden charter school inspired her.

“I was leaning toward school psychology or educational psych, and then I realized I could work with urban youth,” she says, adding that she realized she could have great impact as a social worker. “That’s what I want to do now.”

The enthusiasm of one boy in particular resonated with her and fellow students.

“He was so excited to see us there. He gave us a hug and said, ‘What are we doing today?’ That made me see that even though those kids can be rowdy and they might be passed off as bad kids, they all are special in their own way and they really do care.”

She says the supportiveness of Rutgers–Camden faculty and staff have helped her to discover her dream and take steps to turn it into a reality.

“There is an open door policy here,” she says. “You can just pop in. You know people by face and name. The connections here are what have been the most important to me.”

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