Sana Abbasi Testimonies
"Whoever I am today, including being able to become president of student government, I owe that all to the support I got from Drew."
To hear her tell it, coming to CDU was a real turning point for alumna and former Student Government president Sana Abbasi.
"I was lost in my life," she says. "I was going in and out of community colleges, unable to finish classes because I was working full-time. I didn't believe I could get or would ever get a four-year degree."
A chance encounter with CDU faculty member Thomas R. Magee, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Life Sciences, was a defining moment for her. Sana was attending Trade Tech, and Professor Magee happened to be handing out flyers. "I just picked up a flyer, and it said â€˜Biomedical Science Degree,' and I decided to come here." And in another positive twist for Sana, Professor Magee ended up being one of her teachers.
"The amount of support I've received and the one-on-one relationships that I've built with my instructors have been invaluable," says Sana. "I know that so many of my teachers and professors genuinely care about me and whether I'm successful or not. They also lead by example. Not just preaching certain things to us and doing other things. It's good to see that leadership believes in the mission and pushes you to do the same."
One of the most important elements of that mission, to Sana, is activism. "Activism is the heart of social justice, and medicine," she says. "CDU was established to push and break barriers, to ask questions and hold people accountable. Activism is the biggest part of CDU. This university was made to fight for equal health care and all other rights. If you're true to the ideals of social justice and medicine, then you'll fit in here perfectly."
She also believes that CDU is a special place for students who have faced personal challenges. "People who come to Drew tend to be people who have had adversity in their life, and they understand that this is a community that historically has been pushed into the background," she says. "If you're looking for a team that can make you feel comfortable regardless of who you are or where you come from, this University can give you what you want."
"I feel like CDU saved me," Sana says. I was not a traditional student. But I can say that, whoever I am today, including being able to become president of student government, I owe that all to the support I got from Drew."
"I feel like I'm part of the leadership of the healthcare workforce of the future!"
Wigdan Ahmed Testimonies
"You feel like this is your own school."
For someone who came to this country over 15 years ago with no family, friends or contacts for support, Wigdan Ahmed has made steady progress in her education and her career planning. Originally from Sudan and the mother of three children, including one in high school, Wigdan actually has a bachelor's degree in Accounting back home but didn't find working in the financial field very rewarding. "I worked in a bank for three months, but I just didn't like it," she says. Seeking change and a new start, she applied for a visa and received it, coming to the United States in 2003. When she looked into employment, she says, "I was looking for something unique, so I looked into the medical field and ended up picking Radiology."
She and her husband were living in Orange County at the time, so she started taking prerequisites for the Radiology program at Cypress College. Her studies were interrupted by the birth of her second and third children. After staying home to raise them, she discovered a Radiology program at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. While performing volunteer hours at Harbor-UCLA, she met a co-worker who had gone to CDU. "He spoke very highly of CDU, so I looked into it and applied," she says.
She was accepted and is currently nearing the end of her first year. She will graduate in Spring 2020 with an Associate of Science in Radiologic Technology.
Her husband would like to attend CDU as well. But with a young family, they will have to stagger their education plans. "We can't work at the same time," she says. "I told him to wait for me to finish, then he can take the classes, too."
The University has had a significant impact on someone who has travelled so far from her country of birth. "For me, the school is home," she says. "Everybody is so nice. Everyone helps everyone else. The staff is so respectful. You feel like this is your own school. They do everything they can to help you, especially financially. I applied for and received several scholarships to help pay for my education.
"It was hard at first, balancing home, family and school. But because of help, support and financial help, I have been able to make it work.
Like many CDU alums and students, Wigdan has found herself particularly drawn to the University's mission. "In many places, the mission is just words," she says. But here, it's more than that. There is a commitment to help people, including students. Not only with money, but also in classes. The faculty really care, and they want to help you do well in your studies."
After graduation, Wigdan has plans to begin as x-ray technologist, then get training and certification for CT or MRI. Eventually, she would like to go home to the Sudan and open a small imaging center. "It's really needed there," she says.
Erin Johnson Testimonies
"If you want to be the person who moves the needle, doing good for a cause, CDU is the place where you'll have that voice."
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Erin Johnson went to Spellman College and received an undergraduate degree in Biology, a choice of majors, she says, that "absolutely changed my life." After that, she was determined to make medicine her career, but she wasn't quite ready for medical school yet. So, she looked into various graduate and post-baccalaureate programs around the country to better prepare her for her career path.
At the same time, she had made a decision to move to Los Angeles, where she had found work at a sleep clinic in Santa Monica while exploring her higher education options. CDU became one of those options after she googled "schools that serve underserved communities," and Charles R. Drew University came up as the first entry. She applied, and was wait-listed for the post-baccalaureate program but was accepted into the first cohort of students for the new Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences.
She calls applying to CDU and getting accepted into that program a "great decision, as it gave me the opportunity to combine my love of science with the cultural aspects of care and community health."
CDU also gave her the opportunity to do a very specific research project on a topic of interest to her: studying a particular protein to see if it's a specific biomarker for early detection of breast cancer in African-American women.
Erin believes it's the ability to engage in research projects like that one that really distinguish CDU. "You're in a place where people understand what you're doing and why you're doing it," she says. "You don't have to explain why you want to do a certain project. Everyone has a common goal."
And that goal is very mission-specific: addressing health disparities, especially in communities of color.
Erin says she was exposed to a lot of discrimination and inequality, and it had a large influence on her personally-and on her choice of education curriculum and future career. "Once you see something like that, you can't not do something about it," she says. "I feel like I owe it to the world to help those who need it the most. Charles R. Drew University is giving me a platform to do that."
Erin was so committed to CDU that, while looking into graduate school options, she got job offers from both UCLA and CDU. UCLA offered significantly more money, but they couldn't match the environment she felt she had at CDU. "Here, they understand why I do the things I do. Everyone here is so supportive of my goals," she says.
"You're heard here," she continues. "You have a voice. If you want to be the person moving the needle, doing good for a cause, CDU is the place where you'll have that voice."
Erin has a goal to enter medical school in August 2020, but until then, she's continuing to soak up the mission, purpose and diversity of CDU. "To see so many faces and learn about so many different cultures, to interact with people at all different levels is inspiring!" she says.
Maria Kemp Testimonies
"CDU offers endless opportunities for students to push themselves beyond their boundaries and comfort zones. I have been afforded opportunities as a student that I would not have had anywhere else."
With a BS in Business Management, a concentration in Human Resources and a family full of musicians, it was only natural that Maria Kemp would leave Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and come to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. And that's what she did, in 2015, landing a job with Warner Music Group in Burbank. But then, her father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, sparking Maria's interest in health care. "It stirred a passion in me that I didn't know I had," says Maria. "In researching the insurance process for my dad, I discovered the system's fragmented nature. I also found that that my family wasn't the only one going through this type of ordeal."
Maria decided she wanted to use her experience and help fix this problem. "I felt strongly that my purpose was going to be in healthcare, helping people," she says.
Maria told a family member that she wanted to return to school and contacted a friend who happened to know CDU President/CEO Dr. David Carlisle. "She told me about CDU, and once I read the website, the vision, mission and values of the University immediately connected with me. They were in perfect alignment with my beliefs. The underlying social justice element really excited me, especially studying the impact on the health of minorities."
Once she got to CDU, it fulfilled all the potential she read about. "CDU opened my eyes in a way I never thought possible-historically, in society and medicine," Maria says. "It inspired me to want to be a pioneer for the cause of eliminating health disparities. The environment here, faculty and colleagues, have all played an integral part in sparking my passion to become a public health professional.
"Given that my grandfather was a practicing dentist in the late 30's to the early 70's during a time where minorities were hardly able to work and serve, I have come to admire the strong social justice element that CDU thrives on."
Now, with a Master of Public Health degree in hand, Maria is looking at law school. "I always had an passion for law; I just didn't know what to advocate for. Since I've been exposed to the extent of health disparities at CDU, I have something to advocate for, to be a crusader for: the health and welfare of underserved people, in communitiesâ€”not only here in America but all over the world."
But Maria will always see CDU as the start of her journey. "CDU offers endless opportunities for students to push themselves beyond their boundaries and comfort zones," she says. "I have been afforded opportunities as a student that I would not have had anywhere else."
Richard Morgan Testimonies
“CDU has proven its ability to influence and propel forward the world’s best clinicians and scientists. I chose CDU because [...] I knew I was going to receive the best training possible.”
As a child, Richard Morgan watched his late mother struggle to control Type 2 diabetes. He cited the compassion of his mother’s healthcare providers and their conviction to help her live a long and fruitful life as inspiration to pursue a career in health and reach out to others facing similar health predicaments. “One day I will join the ranks of those physicians who made a difference in my mother’s life, and I too will ensure that patients in similar situations realize their right to a healthy and happy life,” he said.
Morgan is currently enrolled in the Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program, as well as the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program. He matriculated into both programs in 2012 and plans to obtain the combined degrees of MD and PhD by 2021. After completing his medical and graduate training, he plans to match into a combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency program. Ultimately, he hopes to matriculate into a hematology or bone marrow transplant fellowship program, to gain vital skills in transforming the health of underserved patients afflicted with hematologic disorders.
He credits his decision to attend CDU to the University’s unique position as the only Historically Black Graduate Institution (HGBI) on the West Coast and its legacy of training aspiring health professionals dedicated to transforming the health of medically-underserved communities. “CDU has proven its ability to influence and propel forward the world’s best clinicians and scientists,” he said. “I chose CDU because [...] I knew I was going to receive the best training possible.”
Born in Los Angeles and raised in San Diego, Morgan received his bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from California State University, Northridge before going to earn his master’s degree in Biotechnology with a focus in Biotechnology Enterprise from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2016, Morgan was the first CDU medical student to be bestowed with the National Medical Fellowships’ (NMF) Franklin McLean Award in many years.
Ultimately, his goal is to use the skills that he acquires as a CDU student to establish his own research laboratory and clinical practice.
Scott Nass Testimonies
"[It] makes sense to me that resources can be scarce and take time to travel to [in smaller communities]; but in large, urban areas, people often can't access services that are literally across the street. CDU helped me understand many of these barriers and gave me tools to help me start breaking them down."
Scott Nass, MD, is a graduate of the Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program. He has served as residency faculty with an emphasis on inpatient medicine for six years, with appointments at the University of Southern California, Western University of Health Sciences and Loma Linda University. In 2017, Dr. Nass was named as an inaugural Leaders for Health Equity Fellow and Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity by George Washington University, which connects him to a network of health equity champions across the globe.
“I chose to attend CDU for medical school because it promised me the challenge I was looking for,” Dr. Nass said. His roots in rural Kentucky afforded him natural empathy for communities faced with serious health inequities and social determinants of health. However, he was also intrigued by the unique challenges that plagued urban and seemingly more resource-affluent areas. “[It] makes sense to me that resources can be scarce and take time to travel to [in smaller communities]; but in large, urban areas, people often can’t access services that are literally across the street,” Dr. Nass explained. “CDU helped me understand many of these barriers and gave me tools to help me start breaking them down.”
He regularly advocates for the health of his community, in the exam room and beyond. As a fellow of the Academy of Family Physicians, he has learned how to leverage the gravity of his patients’ testimonies at the state and national level, where Dr. Nass says “so many factors dictate access to care and other major public health issues.”
Dr. Nass recalled upon his time at CDU with fondness and appreciation for the supportive staff and faculty he encountered. “It was so inspiring to know that we shared a mission of social justice, and they were there to mentor me at every turn,” he said. “ When I think back on my time at CDU, I am grateful for the energy they invested in seeing me succeed.”