This is another in a series of profiles of this year’s graduating class.
Whether it’s creating scholarships in Jamaica, improving health policies in American schools, or even joining the United Nations, Lehman College’s 2012 graduating class is ready to embark upon ambitious careers.
Racquel Smith, a public health graduate student, didn’t wait for the end of her studies to become a leader. She works as the coordinator of the Peer Educator Program in the Lehman Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, which provides jobs for student on campus and helps them develop professional skills. Her work gives her the opportunity to meet and work with students from all walks of life.
Smith grew up in Mandeville, Manchester, on the island of Jamaica and left her country in 2005 to study at Lehman. In only three years, she earned her bachelor’s degree cum laude along with departmental awards. Now, she’s about to earn her master’s in public health, specializing in community health and social justice.
“I would like to use this knowledge to work with vulnerable populations, such as minorities and the poor, to ensure that they have equal access to healthcare services at a cost they can afford,” Smith says. She hopes to find a job in a hospital or healthcare facility coordinating health programs, where she can implement new policies addressing obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Her long-term dream is to develop college scholarships for poor children in her homeland.
Smith doesn’t always have the opportunity to travel to Jamaica and visit her relatives. But this year, on May 31, her family will travel to New York to see her graduate.
“I am the first in my immediate family to attain this level of education, and it is a very humbling experience for me,” she says. “I remember when I decided to make a big step and attend college in the States. It seemed impossible at that time, but I remained focused on my goal.”
Other international students have also built leadership skills while studying at Lehman. Political science major Olu Onemola and health education and promotion major student Yurie Harada are both graduates of the Malave Leadership Academy Fellowship Program, a selective CUNY-wide program that taught them how to become leaders in their fields.
Onemola, from Nigeria, was still a freshman when he decided to join Lehman’s student government. The following semester, in Spring 2010, he was running for senator—one of the elected student representatives in the College Senate. He’s now the student government president.
“I made a promise to myself that I would get involved on campus in whatever capacity I could, in order to one day serve the students on the student government,” he says.
But Onemola’s dreams don’t stop at politics. He plans on going to law school, specializing in international law, and hopes to one day lead the United Nations.
“I have always been an enthusiastic political junkie and nerd,” Onemola says. “Understanding power, power relations and the varied interests that govern our world intrigue me.”
Yurie Harada, who is from Japan and majoring in health education and promotion, has helped countless Lehman students as the Campus Information Services Student Coordinator. As she prepares to graduate later this month, she’s also thinking about her future career. Ultimately, Harada hopes to enter nursing school and become a nurse practitioner. She still plans to remain a leader in her professional life, however, and wants to shape health policies on a subject close to her heart: the introduction and improvement of school meals. Lehman’s health education program enabled her to understand the significance of promoting health and preventing disease, but her internships also shaped her ambitions.
“I have met the most compassionate nurse practitioners and doctors at White Plains Hospital, where I interned my last semester,” Harada says. “This encounter absolutely encouraged me to be a person who has a positive influence on others.”
Even though Harada is 5,000 miles away from home, she said she doesn’t feel different within Lehman’s diverse community of students and professors.
“You get to learn a wide variety of cultures. I have to say that I have met countless wonderful people at Lehman,” she says. “I was not a victim of the tsunami in Japan a year ago, but it was an unforgettable moment when people sincerely supported the charity event for earthquake relief. I have developed a sense of appreciation for every single person on campus.”