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Coming to America 

Senior Ibrahim Abdalla looks forward to a bright future. (Photo by Paul Miller)  

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 22, 2017) – Senior Ibrahim Abdalla is making the most of the opportunities he has found at the University at Albany.

Abdalla, a dual major in public health and emergency preparedness, is on his way this spring to becoming one of the first graduates of the new College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC).

Ibrahim, a first-generation college student, grew up in North Sudan. His father’s farmland on the banks of the river Nile was overrun by water when the government built the Merowe Dam, a huge hydroelectric project that displaced 60,000 residents. Then the government proposed to build another dam, the Kajbar, on the Nile. This would result in his whole village being severely affected. After protesting the plans with many others, his father applied for and received political asylum in the U.S. Ibrahim and his family entered this country in September of 2009 and moved in with his aunt in Cohoes. Today the family lives in Latham and they are U.S. citizens.

“My father wanted to give me something that he never had access to and the privilege of obtaining – education,” said Ibrahim, whose first language is Arabic. At Albany, Ibrahim has found excellent and affordable public higher education. 

After the family moved to the U.S., young Ibrahim vowed to get a proper education to help his village back home, where people died from infectious diseases, malaria and illnesses caused by a lack of proper sanitation and hygiene. The closest clinic was 40 minutes away.

“Ever since then I made a promise that I’m going to work my hardest to make things different for my family and my country and help raise awareness about prevention and simple things that could improve public health,” said Ibrahim, whose first experience with public health was going door to door in the village to spread the word that visiting doctors had set up a small outdoor clinic so that children could get vaccinations.

Ibrahim Abdalla

Senior Ibrahim Abdalla plans graduate studies in emergency preparedness and homeland security. (Photo by Paul Miller)      

Later, he volunteered with local charities in various part of Kerma and distributed food and other supplies to the poor before Ramadan so villagers would have something to eat when they broke their fast.

The culture shock of coming to America was tremendous. For the first seven months, as the family saved to afford a permanent residence, Ibrahim did not go to school, and taught himself English. Finally, his family was able to rent an apartment and Ibrahim enrolled in high school.

“When I arrived here in 2009 I knew almost nothing but the alphabet and a few English words but with hard work and going to summer school I was able to pass all my NYS Regents and graduated from high school the next year,” he said.

He enrolled at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) and transferred to UAlbany to apply for the biology program. After a few biology classes both at HVCC and UAlbany, he learned biology was not for him. As many students do, he changed majors.

“With the help of a friend who referred me to one of the advisors for Public Health, I was able to get some guidance and information about the major and I knew exactly that it was what I wanted to do,” he said.

Still, it has not been easy.

“Working full time to be able to afford college and avoiding taking out student loans has been one of the biggest challenges because it is very hard to manage between work and the amount of work you are given at school,” he said. Until this semester when he started a part-time internship, he worked full time. After graduation, he plans to continue his graduate studies in emergency preparedness and homeland security at UAlbany.

Long term, he said, “My goal is to go back to my country and help improve the health care system that we have, especially in villages and places where they don’t have any hospitals or ways to get treatment,” he said.

In the summer of 2016, Ibrahim was looking to add a second major and that’s when he found CEHC.

“When I started to look into what I could possibly do my concentration in, I realized that Emergency Preparedness correlates directly to my other major. Having the background and experiences in dealing with emergencies and disasters would contribute directly to what I want to do in the future which is helping my village,” he said.

It was a Homeland Security class that opened his eyes to “changes in the political climate that have targeted Muslims and spread an awful stereotype that has no basis in fact.” He said Muslims in the U.S. fear for their lives because of the toxic rhetoric that has been spread.

“I feel that with a degree in this field I can make a positive impact because I have both the cultural knowledge and the knowledge about language that will help me better communicate the real picture of Muslims not only here but also around the world,” Ibrahim said.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.