We met Mahmuda 4 years ago when she was a high school senior applying to Garden State Woman's Education Foundation for scholarship support. The Scholarship Program provides financial support and mentoring to a few exceptional inner city young women graduating from a New Jersey high school and going on to a 4-year New Jersey college or university.
The year we interviewed Mahmuda, she was one of more than a dozen applicants for our scholarship program. Most were deserving of help to get them out of difficult family and economic circumstances but with limited financial resources, our Foundation could only pick four from the group.
Mahmuda stood out right from the beginning of our relationship. She came to this country from Bangladesh at age 7. She had never been to school and could not speak English. Despite that daunting start, and a family that did not appreciate or encourage her commitment to education, she graduated 3rd in her high school class and was accepted by Rutgers and other top universities in New Jersey and out-of-state, determined to pursue her dream of becoming a dental surgeon.
Eventually Mahmuda's family cut off their relationship with her leaving her to fend for herself, working at whatever jobs she could find (waitressing, tutoring, dorm sitting and more) while carrying a full load of tough courses.
But Mahmuda has survived the struggle for independence so far. She just finished her junior year with a GPA of 3.5 for the year and she has saved enough to take a $1000 Kaplan course that prepares her for the dental school admission exam. Of course, she is also working several jobs to cover her tuition and living expenses.
Mahmuda selected dentistry as a career because she wants to put a smile on people's faces. She will be applying to a number of dental schools, but a Florida school is first choice because she can establish residency there and the tuition will be lower for the next four to five years of additional study.
Mahmuda has become part of our extended family, often attending family events. On Memorial Day, we brought her to a barbecue at a friend's house (Isobel Wayrick, President of the Garden State Woman Education Foundation). In attendance were many of Isobel's friends and Mahmuda impressed them all with her poise and intelligence.
Although a hard worker, Mahmuda is hardly a bookworm. During one of her school breaks, she went on a school-sponsored trip to the Cayman Islands to do reef research. Earlier this year, she traveled to Washington D.C., again on a school-sponsored trip, to meet with non-profits to discuss the pros and cons of having a needle exchange program for drug users. Prior to the trip, she had studied the subject thoroughly, as she tackles every other challenge and responsibility she faces.
Here's How You Can Help the Next Mahmuda
You can make a difference in the life of a deserving young New Jersey woman from a disadvantaged situation and attending a New Jersey college or university. Make a donation to the Garden State Woman Education Foundation and agree to serve as a mentor. Or have your organization partner with our Foundation by funding a $1500/year scholarship in our joint names.