Zoë Welsh ’22, sociology major and double minor in public policy and human resources and people management, shares a look at a day in her life on campus. Crisscrossing Hawk Hill from class to lunch to more classes and a full evening of meetings, this busy Hawk is making an impact as a leader while finding her purpose.
Success & Impact
How a 2020 Graduate Turned a Rejection into an Opportunity
Shah Akram’s lifelong goal was to get her master’s in educational leadership from an American university. But for the Pakistan native, that dream long seemed far away. Her father had moved from Pakistan to the U.S. in 2000. Several years later, Shah, her mother and siblings were able to join him.
“The wait was too long. We gave up hoping it would be done,” says Shah. “But deep inside, I had an instinct that one day I would be able to get an advanced degree from abroad. I had always had that wish.”
In 2016, Shah and her family were finally permitted to move to the U.S. “When people come to the U.S. from Pakistan, they have a lot of dreams. For them, the United States is the land of opportunity,” Shah says. “When I finally came to the U.S., I decided my only dream was to complete my graduate degree.”
Shah had already attended a four-year university in Pakistan and had a degree in education, but she still struggled with the application process for U.S. graduate programs. “Because my English was not good at all, I had a hard time understanding what someone was saying to me,” she recalls. “I started working at a grocery store where I practiced my English skills. I told my coworkers, ‘You have to talk to me, even if you don’t have anything to say. I want to practice my English.’” Shah also took courses at the Community College of Philadelphia to improve her language skills.
After one year of living in the U.S., Shah got the notification that her degree from the Pakistani university was approved as being considered equal to a bachelor’s degree from an American college (one of the requirements of attending a graduate program). She was finally ready to apply — she just needed to find a program.
While browsing Facebook one day, Shah saw a story about Saint Joseph’s University. “I was really attracted to the pictures and the campus. It was so beautiful, ” Shah says. “I immediately stopped looking at other colleges and universities. I knew this was where I wanted to go.”
Shah was denied admission the first time she applied. “I was so disheartened. I cried. I was so disappointed. It took me more than a year and a half to be able to apply and I was rejected.”
I immediately stopped looking at other colleges and universities. I knew this was where I wanted to go.”
But Shah didn’t let that stop her. She sent an email to Aimee LaPointe Terosky, Ed.D., associate professor of educational leadership. “I wrote about only having one dream in my life and that was to get a higher education. I really wanted to be a part of Saint Joseph’s,” she says.
“We have really strict requirements for admission into the [master’s in educational leadership] program,” Terosky says. “But I wanted to hear Shah out. We met in person, and within 10 minutes, I knew we needed to accept her provisionally. You could just tell she was brilliant. Her commitment was amazing.”
After an internal department meeting, Terosky and Encarna Rodriguez, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership, extended Shah a provisional acceptance, which allows students to enter the program and continue if they meet a GPA requirement during their first semester of study. “They said if I achieve a 3.0 GPA during my first semester, I could continue in the program,” says Shah.
Looking back on her first semester in the program Shah remembers feeling overwhelmed.
“I was continuously thanking everyone — librarians, professors,” Shah says. “But I was not expecting the amount of support and encouragement or motivation that I got from the professors. One of my courses was with Dr. Terosky and she helped me so much. She was the one who made it all possible.”
“Our University is committed to social justice. Saint Joseph’s seems to be a safe haven for students who have had a lot of challenges in their life, and they’ve worked through them or they’re working in extremely challenging contexts and doing amazing work,” says Terosky. “I just knew — I had such an overpowering feeling — that this woman means business. She wants to make something with her life.”
This year, Shah will graduate from Saint Joseph’s with a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration — finally making her lifelong dream come true. “I knew I was going to make it. I didn’t doubt myself, but I didn’t expect the SJU community to be so supportive,” Shah says. “The professors are so hardworking and always there for the students. They do everything possible for their students. On campus, there is so much positivity around you.”