Some Cheyney University students take disparate paths to arrive at the school, and once they arrive, even those with similar career goals often find themselves with very different educational experiences.
Khadija Pearson, Esraa Ebraheem, and Victor Wright are all headed to medical school, but the backgrounds that brought them to Cheyney couldn’t be more diverse. United by a dedication to and passion for the school, together they exemplify the many possible pathways for Cheyney students both before and after matriculation.
Khadija Pearson: A Leader on the Court and in the Classroom
“I have always possessed the hunger to attend Cheyney University,” she said. “Being a [Cheyney] Wolf has been in my blood for generations. My Cheyney legacy began with my mother, two aunts, uncle, and cousin. They all attended our illustrious university.”
Because of her prowess in and love of basketball, directly after high school, she chose Grambling State University. But with strong grades and skill with the sport, she transferred to Cheyney with a scholarship as part of the Keystone Honors Program and the women’s basketball team. This allowed her to expand her skillset and join a highly competitive team that challenged her and allowed her to continue doing what she loves.
“Outside of allowing me to expand my performance on the court, I was also able to make monumental shifts in my thinking and preparation for medical school,” she said. “Cheyney’s cultivated legacy of success and determination is something I will take with me as I complete medical school. I will always cherish the HBCU culture and everything it offered me as a Black woman on her way to achieve her dreams.”
In addition to being accepted as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Pearson said her major was incredibly challenging. To balance coursework, basketball, and a social life, she had to find resources that would help her succeed at all levels. School always came first, so when things got difficult, she sought help at the Academic Success Center. Its resources became an integral part of her daily routine.
“We were a family that helped each other succeed and reach our goals,” Pearson said. “Without the support of the tutors and mentors there, I would not have graduated summa cum laude, got into graduate school, or had the opportunity to tutor other students and inform them of the great opportunities Cheyney University had to offer. It changed my life and kept me on track.”
But she was always mindful of balancing her coursework with her time on the court.
“Being a student-athlete was very demanding because of the commitment I had to make to the team along with my coursework,” she said. “College basketball was a year-round task that developed my leadership, organizational and communication skills. I faced a number of adversities and injuries that opened my eyes to the fact that life is more than just sports. Life is also growth. I loved being a collegiate athlete and building the trust of my coach, all of which allowed me to represent my school as a leader and grow as a team player.”
According to Pearson, having a mother who is a Cheyney alum was the driving force behind her interest in medicine. She vividly recalls her mother’s stories of having her books spread out as she studied for her exams. That influence nurtured her interest in medicine and inspired her to pursue a career as a physician.
“When I made the conscious decision to pursue medicine, my mother worked to always place me in progressive and beneficial spaces that moved me toward medical excellence,” she said. “These spaces expanded my interests and built a fire in me that led me to maintain academic excellence while obtaining my CNA license, my clinical rotation hours at Suburban Hospital, and a three-year internship position in Meharry Medical College’s BS/MD program. Upon my completion of a master’s in biomedical sciences from the University of Pittsburgh, I will attend medical school with the endgame of a long-lasting career in pediatrics or family medicine.”
Esraa Ebraheem: Learning Firsthand the Difference That a Caregiver Makes
Future physician Esraa Ebraheem said an academic adviser at Delaware County Community College encouraged her to apply to the nation’s first Historically Black College or University. Ebraheem, an immigrant from the southern regions of Egypt, also applied to Temple University and West Chester University and was accepted to both of them. However, after a tour of the campus and learning more about the rich history of the institution, she knew she belonged at Cheyney.
“I could not turn a blind eye to this amazing place,” she said. “I am an immigrant who came to pursue the dream of becoming a doctor. I needed a university that would believe in me and my potential. As I transitioned to Cheyney University I met the amazing faculty, students, and staff. I felt like I was part of this place and I realized I made the best decision for my family and myself. When I got accepted to Cheyney University I felt like I was over the moon.”
Ebraheem joined the Keystone Honors Academy and received a full scholarship. But the transition wasn’t always easy.
“I have a language barrier,” she said. “I had to become accustomed to different cultural foods, adjust to the various seasons. However, because of the support system, I persisted, and overcame all my fears.”
On-campus, Ebraheem familiarized herself with various support from distinguished professors, students, and the academic center. She worked closely with Irma Aguirre, the executive director of student affairs, and with admissions counselors in the undergrad admissions office.
“Their words of wisdom, daily encouragement, made me feel as if I could conquer the world,” she said. “I feel honored and beyond blessed to have gotten to know so many brilliant people. I look forward to continuing a friendship with all of them.”
Ebraheem’s interest in medicine began when she was five years old. Her entire family had a passion for the sciences and reading was encouraged. Her mother was extremely firm about education and continually motivated her to be the best she could be, and inspired her to follow her dreams.
“My parents got divorced and we moved into my uncle’s house. My uncle was suffering from complete paralysis and I witnessed daily his struggles with emotional and physical pain,” Ebraheem said. “I became emotionally attached to him and wanted to assist him in any way that was possible. He was a father figure for me and although he was a patient with needs, I never saw his illness as an ailment.”
His caregivers inspired her, she said. “I saw doctors, nurses and therapists in our home daily. I observed the differences between his before and aftercare once the doctors departed our home. When the medical professionals arrived, I would see my uncle transform right before my eyes. He would go from experiencing pain and suffering to comfort and calmness in an instant. He trusted the medical personnel with his progress and life. As I observed them, I knew that I had to be part of this.”
Following her work at Cheyney, Ebraheem plans to specialize in neurology. “I feel prepared and ready for medical school thanks to Cheyney University. I’m also better prepared socially, and my academics are superb. I will become an amazing neurologist one day and I have Cheyney University to thank for that.”
“It will happen,” she added. “Cheyney University changed my life and I thank the faculty, staff, and also my fellow students. They embraced me as if I were one of their own and I am eternally grateful. The family of Cheyney University saw me at my weakest and helped me grow. They believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.”
Victor Wright: Studying the History and Future of Medicine
Cheyney student Victor Wright always wanted a career in which he could help other people. He was interested in becoming an attorney, but was really good at science and began cultivating an interest in the biosciences, particularly biology. Wright graduated from Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, and Cheyney made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“They offered me a full-ride scholarship,” he said. “My academics were excellent, and I came in with 15 extra credits when I graduated from Boys’ Latin. I was able to attain those credits from different internships and a dual enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania. My internship at the Perelman Center involved giving a comforting hand to cancer patients. It was very rewarding.”
Wright engaged in multiple internships while at Boys’ Latin in preparation for his post-high-school education. One of those internships involved studies at the Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians. The Mutter Museum’s education program is geared toward middle and high school students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and partners with area schools to expose students to the wide variety of careers in healthcare and biosciences.
“The Mutter Museum is basically a cadaver museum and so much more. It’s the first and largest museum of medical knowledge,” Wright said. “It’s a museum of medical history. They have preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments. It was a way for general medicine to be studied at the time. They have skeletons of the tallest and smallest people who ever lived. They have preserved Albert Einstein’s brain. It was an amazing experience.”
At Cheyney, Wright pledged Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and is a biology major and a peer influencer in which he can mentor freshmen. He also worked in the campus aquaponics lab. Part of Cheyney’s vision for its future involved the creation of an academic and professional specialization in the culture of growing aquatic animals and plants in controlled environments. The Aquaculture Research and Education Laboratory was founded in 2003 to prepare students for emerging 21st-century career opportunities.
“I’ve been accepted to the University of Pittsburgh, where I’ll be studying to become an anesthesiologist,” he said. “Cheyney University was seen by some people as being down for the count, but it’s strong. I’m proud to be here and to be part of Cheyney’s continuing legacy of forward-thinking, visionary young Black men and women.”