A World of Difference
A Bangladeshi immigrant struggled, but the RAM Program came to her rescue.
When Tonuza Ahmed’s family moved from Bangladesh to Long Island in 2016, they knew it would be tough getting acclimated to a new culture and setting down roots. What 16-year-old Tonuza didn’t know was how rocky her start in high school would be.
Tonuza, a senior Bioscience major who graduates this spring, barely spoke English when she arrived in the U.S. Her family moved in with Tonuza’s aunt, and she was enrolled in high school in Melville. Three months later, her family moved to Deer Park, and she had to change schools. It was a difficult time, both for Tonuza and her family.
“In our country we learn English as a second language, but it is very different here,” Tonuza says. “I didn’t understand the accent at all. That’s why I didn’t speak a word in school. I would sit in my classes and force myself to give all my attention so I could understand what my teacher was saying.”
Tonuza somehow made it through, and began looking for a college, preferably one close to home. That’s why she chose Farmingdale. She determined in her heart she would succeed, if only for the sake of her parents, who had money, job, and language challenges.
“Getting a higher education in America is something people in my country dream about. I dreamt of it too, and it was about to come true. I enrolled in Farmingdale with the hope to achieve something in life and make my parents proud.”
But much of Tonuza’s freshman year was bittersweet. As she described it, she was “not on the right track.” Things began to turn around when she joined the Research Aligned Mentorship (RAM) Program.
“I personally am not a risk taker. I pretty much stay in my bubble and never get out of my comfort zone. RAM gave me that push so I could get out of my comfort zone. I remember being very upset and thinking about giving up. I have gone to my RAM mentors multiple times, and they helped me get through it by encouraging me.”
Tonuza changed her major to Bioscience, attended a RAM workshop about summer research opportunities and much to her delight was accepted at the University of Miami. She spent the summer of 2018 conducting research on spinal cord injuries.
“The very first reason I wanted to go to summer research was to try something new and different,” she says. “Not only the research part but also going out of state for two months was a big deal for me. So, I gathered all my guts and decided to go, and I don’t regret any of it.”
No one has been closer to Tonuza during her years at FSC than Dr. Erwin Cabrera, director of the RAM Program. He sees something in Tonuza that she never could have imagined of herself just a few years ago.
“Her love for learning is infectious, and her ability to not only persevere but flourish has been amazing to watch,” Dr. Cabrera says. “Tonuza tackles school and her life with a passionate but positive viewpoint, and is 100 percent a true definition of what a Farmingdale State College student is.”