As Farhana Haque recalls, while her peers may have looked up to iconic figures such as superheroes or star athletes, her childhood hero was actually her pediatrician.
“I just always admired how he helped people,” recalls Haque, a first-year student at Rutgers University–Camden. “He could calm my parents’ nerves, tell us what was wrong, and how we could fix it. I would say, ‘Wow, are you a wizard?’ And he would say, ‘No, I’m your doctor.’”
Haque now plans to follow in her pediatrician’s footsteps, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology – a discipline that she notes is fundamental to many different health sciences careers – while gaining firsthand experience working with children.
“I really love a challenge and what could be more challenging than helping children?,” asks Haque, an Atlantic City resident. “They can’t tell you what ails them, so you really have to lean on your education to figure it out and provide the best treatment.”
While her goals are now well within her reach, there was a pivotal moment – before Haque was born – when her parents made a decision that was heroic in its own right, one that would make her dreams possible.
As Haque shares, her parents and sister, Prova, were living at the time in their native Bangladesh. During Prova’s fourth birthday celebration, her uncle asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Having met many diplomats in her young life – her grandparents were very politically active in the country – she innocently responded, “a diplomat.” While the guests chuckled, for Haque’s parents, it was no laughing matter.
“When it came down to it, my parents realized that if that is what Prova wanted to do, those opportunities weren’t available in Bangladesh,” says Haque. “Women were discouraged from pursuing professional careers there. It just wasn’t the cultural norm.”Haque’s parents decided then and there to make the difficult decision to leave their family and friends – and life as they knew it – behind and immigrate to America.
Arriving in New York City in 1994, Haque says, her parents knew immediately that they had made the right decision. The family relocated to Ventnor two years later and Haque was born shortly thereafter. As she grew older, her parents would often remind her of the sacrifices that they had made, while instilling the importance of education as a path to greater prosperity.
“They let my sister and I know that if we pursued our education, then we wouldn’t have to face some of the struggles that they did,” she says. “It is really because of them that I value my education.”
Along the way, Haque learned to complement her strong interest in the sciences with her passion for helping others. At Atlantic City High School, she served as secretary of the ecology club, as well as the Interact and Leo clubs, the two largest community volunteering organizations at the school. She also frequently volunteered with her family at her mosque, Masjid Al Taqwa, in Atlantic City.
“These volunteering experiences really made an impression on me,” she recalls. “I was able to help and interact with people whom I otherwise would have never met. You realize that there is always work that needs to be done. It has to start with someone, so why not me.”Haque now looks forward to continuing her volunteer work as a Rutgers–Camden Civic Scholar. For the first-year student, carrying that title means not only serving the community, but taking an active leadership role.
“It’s not a ‘behind-the-scenes approach,’” she says. “You really get to take ownership of what you do.”
This semester, Haque will gain integral experience working with children as an ambassador for Camden Ignite. The initiative, led by the Rutgers/North Camden Schools Partnership, aims to spark student discovery through the arts, sciences, athletics, literacy enrichment, mentoring, and college exposure.
“Yes, we were all children once, but that doesn’t mean that we know how children think and how to respond to their needs,” she says.
Just as importantly, Haque says, now she can help other young people reach their goals, particularly young girls who dream of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“From my experience, many girls get discouraged from pursuing these careers,” she says. “I want them to know that, if that’s what they want to do, then they should go for it. These careers are the future, and we are going to be a part of it.”