Rutgers Student Sparks University Spirit – in Bangladesh
With lanyards, shoelaces and other RU memorabilia, Atif Ahmad shares his pride at a high school back home
Somewhere in the hot and crowded capital city of Dhaka in Bangladesh, a high school soccer player is sporting a snazzy pair of red shoelaces bearing the Rutgers imprint.
If Atif Ahmad has his way, that young athlete – and dozens of his friends – may one day find his way to the university’s New Jersey classrooms.
A first-year School of Arts and Sciences student with his eye on an economics degree, Ahmad is one of three undergraduates and 10 graduate students from the South Asian nation, a figure that has stayed fairly consistent over the past five years, according to the Rutgers Office of Enrollment Management.
“In Bangladesh, people know the name of Rutgers a little bit, but not as much as I’d like,” the 20-year-old says. “Many people see students in United States’ universities as an exclusive club. This is an impression I’d like to change.”
He’s doing his part to make that happen. Ahmad flew home for the recent winter break hauling what seemed like a ton of Rutgers merchandise – lanyards, stickers, brochures, luggage tags and the aforementioned shoelaces – to distribute during an informal presentation to 11th- and 12th-grade students in the country of his birth.
The 20-minute program in Dhaka’s Sunnydale School, at which he shared his experiences on the New Brunswick campus, led to excited inquiries from his target audience.
“They wanted to know exactly where Rutgers is, what it specializes in, how much it costs, how available scholarships are,” Ahmed said. Later, on the athletic field, came the follow-up questions: How are the professors? How do you get around?
And then, of course: What are the girls like? Do you go to a lot of parties?
The genesis of Ahmad’s presentation was a breakfast on the Busch Campus in early fall at which Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi introduced himself to members of the university community, offering his views on the importance of marketing Rutgers as a world-class research institute.
The new student approached the new president, offering to serve as a de facto ambassador to Bangladesh in an effort to extend Rutgers’ global outreach. Barchi’s staff ultimately referred Ahmad to Terrese L. Martin in the Office of Community Affairs, who loaded him up with goodies bearing the Rutgers logo and talking points to help him spread the word about his newfound home.
“I met with this young man and was absolutely delighted,” Martin says. “I gave him plenty of items and information, and wished him well. I’m thrilled that he had such positive results.”
Ahmad’s advocacy also led to an email from Barchi, who thanked him for his efforts and called him “a great ambassador for Rutgers.”
The son of a lawyer father and retired teacher mother, Atif has an older brother, Faiq, who is in the pre-med program at Rutgers. Faiq’s presence played a part in his choosing to come to New Brunswick, Atif Ahmad says, as did Rutgers’ high standings in academics and the growing Bangladeshi population in the nearby municipalities of Edison, South Brunswick and Paterson.
The siblings are hardly alone in seeking a higher education outside their native country. Ahmad notes that spaces in Bangladesh’s universities are severely limited by the nation’s over-population, leading many people to apply to schools in the United States, Australia, Canada and Great Britain.
A member of the Rutgers University Bengali Students Association, he says what has surprised him most in his first months on campus is the diversity of the population: “The Rutgers international community is growing every day,” he says. Early concerns about not fitting in eased quickly as fellow students in the residence halls moved to break the ice and make him feel welcome, Ahmad notes.
He’s also has made his mark on the university’s Model United Nations team, traveling to Montreal recently to serve as a delegate to McMun 2013, the McGill University Model United Nations Assembly.