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Northwestern University

Arch Scholar Rwan Ibrahim '22: "Take Advantage of Every Opportunity"

rwan-ibrahim.jpg"Go for it. Do your best. If you make mistakes, that's OK. Grow from them." That is the message Rwan Ibrahim '22 (left) has heard from her parents, immigrants from Sudan, her entire life.

And it was the response they gave when Ibrahim showed them her invitation to join the Bio&ChemExcel program after she was accepted by Northwestern last year.

“My parents didn’t go to college in the U.S. They went to university before they immigrated, and then they studied at community colleges in Texas to learn what they needed to do in their fields,” she said.

“I know that if they could go to college here, they would be better able to get what they want in life. So my dad is especially passionate about encouraging me. The second he saw the Bio&ChemEXCEL flyer, he said, ‘Apply for it. Just take advantage of every opportunity.’”

Learning how to ask for help

Ibrahim attended the five-week session in the summer of 2018, just weeks after graduating from a high school where “you could get by without completely knowing what you were doing” and where many students either dropped the Advanced Placement chemistry class or failed to pass the AP exam.

“Not a lot of people from my high school go to places like Northwestern,” she said. “Here, you have to know how to seek help to get the grades you want so that you can do what you want to do.”

For Ibrahim, that’s medical school. And the Bio&Chem­EXCEL program was explicit about teaching the help-seeking skills that she will need to pursue that dream.

“A lot of us didn’t know what faculty office hours were before we came. They actually made it a requirement: that you have to go to at least two office hours to get credit,” she said. “They also made a bingo chart, and you’d win something if you did things like ask a question in class, or get your homework checked by a peer, or ask someone to review your essay.

“After getting that little piece of help, you’d feel better about yourself and that you were getting to the level that you needed to be at.”

Today, Ibrahim is majoring in neuroscience and planning to become a mentor to future Bio&ChemEXCEL students. “I’m still working at it, but I definitely wouldn’t be as comfortable as I am now about going to office hours or getting advice from a mentor or trying to become better without the preparation I got from the program,” Ibrahim said. “We learned to always ask for help, because help will be given. I’m excited to become a mentor myself and to give back in that way.”

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