Two Lehman Students Awarded Women’s Forum Fellowships

Syeda Kabir is one of two Lehman students selected for the 2014 Women's Forum Education Fund.

It can be hard going back to college as a “mature” student—especially if you’ve encountered tough times in the intervening years. But two Lehman students, Kiyoko Hairston and Syeda Kabir, have demonstrated such determination in the face of adversity that the Women’s Forum of New York has awarded them each a fellowship—worth $10,000—to help them pursue their academic goals. This annual award recognizes women over 35 who’ve overcome daunting odds to pursue their academic goals.

Compared to most girls in her Bangladeshi village, Syeda Kabir was lucky. Not only did her parents allow her to be educated, they turned away suitors so she could complete her high school degree. Kabir continued on to college, but an illness prevented her from taking her very last final exam; because she was married by then, it seemed pointless to obtain her degree. “In my country you are just a housewife” if you are married, she says.

She came to New York in 2000 in the hope of securing a better education for her two children. Kabir enrolled in English classes at community centers, trying to learn the language as she tended to her kids and her husband worked. She eventually completed her associate’s degree at Hostos Community College in 2010 and entered Lehman College as an accounting major—and she has maintained a 4.0 GPA ever since. “I have struggled with my health, and it’s hard with a family and a part-time job,” Kabir says. “But all my professors encouraged me and helped me. That’s why I don’t give up. I try to do my best.”

Kiyoko Hairston has been awarded the 2014 Women's Forum Education Fund.

Kiyoko Hairston came to New York from Birmingham, AL at the age of 19 hoping to pursue a career in entertainment. She began booking modeling and acting jobs, but she was “living hand to mouth.” Then, while working as a restaurant hostess, she suffered an assault that sent her into a depression and chilled her ambitions. Slowly, she began to work again, but after a job on a movie failed to pay the promised salary, she’d had enough: she decided to go back to college.

At Lehman, Hairston began to pursue her twin passions, theater and dietetics. “When I realized that the food you eat can affect your mood, that’s when nutrition really became a passion,” says Hairston. While at Lehman, she raised money to make her short film Half-Off—and enough to pay the people who worked on it, which was important to her—that she hopes to take to film festivals next year. “Lehman has been so supportive in so many ways. The theater department has been awesome. When people you respect have faith in what you’re doing, it helps a lot.