Oumou Bah has a plan. First, she’ll get an undergraduate degree at New York University Ð “the perfect school” Ð in international studies and political science. Then, law school. She can tell you exactly why, in her quiet, rapid-fire way.
“I grew up in Harlem and I observed how the prison system works in America,” she said, leaning against the wall at the Options Center Decision Day party. “That got me interested in criminal law and finding ways to address mass incarceration.”
Bah was first exposed to NYU a couple of years ago through a program for academically strong high school students. “We were in a political science class and the diversity of topics was amazing,” she recalled, her eyes glowing. “They were talking about European and Caribbean politics. It wasn’t just an American or Eurocentric view of history; it was holistic.”
She came to our Options Center — which won a national award for excellence last year — for help with her applications and financial aid. While she went to a good high school, she found the counselors there weren’t used to working with young people like her Ð a first-generation student from a low-income background. “They didn’t have the information I needed,” she explained. “Options basically became my guidance counselor. Without them I don’t think I would have gotten enough financial aid to go to the school I’ve dreamed about since tenth grade.”
All around her, soon-to-be college freshmen were grabbing slices of pizza and cake, making tee-shirts with the names of their future colleges on them, and taking group selfies—lots of group selfies. Our Decision Day event was part of a nationwide celebration of rising college students. It’s rooted in the notion that all students, not just the star athletes, should be recognized when they declare their choice of college.
“Every student here deserves a celebration, because there are so many obstacles between young people and college—especially for first-generation students,” said Options Center Director Judith Lorimer.
Options student Ashley Rodriguez is heading off to Syracuse, where she’s planning to study nursing. One thing she’s looking forward to is coming back—to Options. She finds it inspiring when college students return to the Center to talk with the high schoolers. She’s eager to pay that forward.
“It’s great when someone who looks like you, who’s been through what you have, comes back and talks to you about college,” she explained. “I want people to feel the way I felt.”
Update: Congratulations to Oumou Bah! She has recently won both the United Neighborhood Houses of New York Viacom scholarship and Goddard Riverside’s Fannie Eisenstein Scholarship.