Haniyeh's Graduation Pbotos

Haniyeh’s Story

“Nothing could turn me away from school. This is the reason I came to the United States. My mom sacrificed everything so my younger sister and I could pursue our education. A lot of people dream of these opportunities.” – Haniyeh

Haniyeh is a Class of 2018 Reality Changers graduate, part of the first UCSD PATHS program graduating class, and a UCSD Class of 2022 Outstanding Graduate. 

Big Dreams in a New Home

Haniyeh’s family immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan in 2015 and, since then, they have worked hard to pursue every available education opportunity in their new home. As she explains, “[In Afghanistan] women are prohibited from obtaining higher education and are only valued for their ability to give birth to children and maintain a household. Thus, the talent and potential of women are largely unrecognized.”

Haniyeh started her American educational journey by attending San Diego High School in the School of Science and Technology. She was learning a third language, taking classes, and caring for her younger sister – all at the same time. As a result, Haniyeh feels that she became an adult at a young age.

Her mother, who had given up her goal of becoming a nurse when she got married at 13, encouraged her daughter to pursue her goals, telling her, “I never could achieve my dream. Whatever you want to be, make sure that you put all of your passion and your effort into it. In this country, the only thing you can’t be is the President (because you weren’t born here).”

Haniyeh has always wanted to become a doctor. She was especially motivated by a heartbreaking experience; in Afghanistan, her asthmatic aunt passed away because she lacked access to a nebulizer machine. Haniyeh’s dream was to give back to low-income, underrepresented immigrant communities through medicine. 

Reality Changers Opens the Door

Haniyeh knew she had to work hard in high school, learn as much as she could, get good grades, and go to college. Because of its strong local reputation, UC San Diego became her dream college. But she didn’t know how to get there.

“When we immigrated here,” she says, “I had zero knowledge about the education system in the United States: how to apply for colleges, what an application is; I knew nothing. And not being able to speak English was another level of hardship for me.”

In order to fulfill her goals, Haniyeh joined Reality Changers in the summer before her senior year. At Reality Changers, she worked one-on-one every week with Debbi, a long-time volunteer. Haniyeh’s English was still not strong, so Debbi helped her to fill out the applications and taught her to write essays in the appropriate style. At the same time, Haniyeh was building up her college resume by volunteering at the hospital and tutoring other immigrant students.

The hard work paid off: Haniyeh got into almost every school that she applied to, including UC San Diego!

“I received a lot of help from Reality Changers in that one year,” she says. “I think that Reality Changers is the reason I got into university. The program made a big change in my life.”

Working to Afford College

Although Haniyeh initially considered starting in community college so that she could work and support her family, her mother encouraged her to go directly to UC San Diego. In the spring and fall of her high school senior year, Haniyeh dedicated herself towards pursuing scholarship opportunities, so that she could lessen the financial burden on herself and her family. With support from Debbi and her Reality Changers coach, Haniyeh hunted for all the scholarships she could find, narrowed down which ones she was eligible for, and wrote dozens of essays. She wound up applying for more than 30 different scholarships. She was awarded three – San Diego Lions Club South Scholarship Award, David Batchelder Memorial Scholarship, and San Diego County Citizens’ Scholarship Foundation (SDCCSF). 

Reality Changers also connected her to the new UC San Diego PATHS program, an on-campus mentorship and scholarship program for minority students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She became part of their inaugural cohort.

“Reality Changers, Haniyeh says, “was extremely helpful for me, as a person who came with zero information about the education system in this country. They opened a lot of doors for me. Their program wasn’t only about the support and resources, but also about learning how to give back to the community, how to make changes, and believe in miracles. The program held my hand and gave me hope for my life and future.”

Overcoming Challenges on Campus

Haniyeh started at UC San Diego in the Fall of 2018. However, since she was still learning English, she found academic jargon particularly challenging. She ended up dropping one class and withdrawing from another. When she requested help from a professor, she was told to take English-language courses instead of classes in her major track. 

All of this made Haniyeh start to question herself and her dreams. Plus, everything was costing time and money while her family was struggling. She wasn’t sure what to do next and the stress often caused her to cry. Her mother, as always, was her motivational supporter and told her not to give up on her goal. “It’s just a little rough at the beginning,” she reassured Haniyeh.

Things got better during her second quarter and, ultimately, Haniyeh received Provost Honors nearly every quarter at UC San Diego. With the support of her family, she was determined not only to succeed but to exceed the expectations of those that had doubted her.

Throughout her time at UC San Diego, Haniyeh was dedicated to expanding her experience and giving back to her community. This included working in a lab on medical research, being a clinic assistant, volunteering at the hospital, chairing the Students for Open Access (SOA) UCSD organization, being an outstanding scholar in the PATHS program, participating in internships, and mentoring others in the PATHS program.

At the same time, Haniyeh went home almost every weekend to help care for her family and help with housework. She even helped her sister apply and get into The Preuss School UC San Diego – a middle and high school for future first-gen college graduates.

A Philosophy for Success

Haniyeh believes that the most important thing someone can do to advance their education is to work hard so they can be ready to take advantage of opportunities that come up – like Reality Changers, PATHS, scholarships, and internships. “The United States,” she says, “has a lot of opportunities. And sometimes, the opportunities are hidden. So, you need to be clever. You need to hunt for them, track them down. Ask for them.”

Haniyeh strives to impart this lesson to her mentees. It’s important for her to give back and to help other students like her, especially women from countries where access to education is limited.

“I don’t want other people to go through the same things I did,” she says. “I experienced a lot of hardship. I hope to share the resources and information that I have so that other people have a better experience.”

A Bright Future Ahead

Haniyeh graduated from UC San Diego in 2022 and participated in a summer internship. She is currently taking time off from school to prepare for the MCAT, work as a medical assistant, and apply to medical school. She is looking forward to her future as a physician and is specifically interested in radiology.

“As a doctor,” she explains, “I will use my ability to speak Persian, Turkish, and English to serve patients from diverse backgrounds. When I combine it with my diverse skill sets in research and patient-care settings, I know I can make a huge impact in my community.”

One of Haniyeh’s personal goals is to buy her mother a house, as a way to say ‘thank you’ for all the sacrifices she made for Haniyeh and her sister.

Haniyeh feels confident that she’ll achieve these goals. She knows that hard work and perseverance always pay off in the long run. 

“It’s ok if you are different,” she says. “It’s ok if you weren’t born here. It’s ok if you are first-generation, low-income, or a minority. Even if you have all of these heavy responsibilities on your shoulders, you can still do it. You can achieve your goals if you want to. It’s all on you.”


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