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Student Profile: Raege Omar

From Eighteen-Wheelers to Research Conferences: Changing My Life to Change Perceptions

Somali immigrant Raege Omar was determined to pursue a college education, so he studied for the GED while making days-long deliveries as a truck driver.

as a temporary laborer for a manufacturing plant. As a truck driver, he could plan his own schedule for three to four days at a time. With only a rudimentary education and basic knowledge of English, Raege taught himself the course material for the exam. In May 2012, after four years of driving eighteen-wheelers, Raege took the GED and passed.

“That’s when I decided to go to college full-time,” he said. Raege saw higher education as a wonderful opportunity for himself and his family, and a way to give back to his community.

and economic upheaval firsthand. His older brother almost died from cholera, and Raege himself suffered from tuberculosis and hepatitis during the decade the family spent in a refugee camp. “I’ve never had malaria, but many died from that,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in what we can do to mitigate problems like that.”

After spending a year at Amarillo College in the Texas panhandle, Raege transferred to UTSA. He is pursuing a double major in public health and sociology. An exceptional student, he consistently makes the Dean’s List and the President’s List, and he is part of the Honors College. Raege will graduate in December 2015.

Even though he is proud of his accomplishments, Raege regrets that he is an exception in his community. “Middleaged Somalian immigrants usually do not have the opportunity to go to college full time,” he said. “I know so many who can’t.” Among those who can pursue higher education, Raege notes a preference for technical degrees. “The few young Somalis who go to higher education study at two-year colleges, and they only study business or computer-related fields,” he said. “That’s really important, but I feel we need to have scholarship.” He believes that studying social sciences creates leaders who can guide social change.

Raege hopes to open a path for others in his community through his accomplishments. And not only does he want to inspire fellow students and friends, he also wants to be a good role model for his son. He said, “I want to inspire my son to go into higher education, become successful, and contribute to knowledge-building and social change.”

Currently, Raege is working on his honors thesis, “Texas Somali Refugees’ Beliefs in Health, Illness, and Health- Seeking Behavior.” “The purpose of this project,” he said, “is to identify specific perceptions that have an effect on Somali refugees’ health in the American system.”

He has already presented his research at UTSA’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry Showcase, and he took the $300 prize for Outstanding Community- Based Research Project. He also recently submitted an abstract for the Mixed Methods International Research Association 2015 Conference.

Raege credits his UTSA research mentor and thesis chair Thankam Sunil and his honors advisor Ann Eisenberg with pushing him to pursue his challenging projects. “Before I met Eisenberg, I did not have any aspirations or confidence that I could do research at an undergraduate level,” he said. “She encouraged me to go for the highest scholarship in the Honors College.” He is also grateful to Jill Fleuriet and Gabriel Acevedo, who are on this thesis panel and have helped him with his research.

Raege does not plan to stop at undergraduate research. “I’m all for going for a Ph.D. in global health and medical anthropology,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to go back to Sub-Saharan Africa and contribute to social relief and development.” Focusing mainly on women’s empowerment and economic development, Raege wants to spread awareness of Somalia’s current gender inequality and political issues to promote change.

Raege is amazed at what he has achieved at UTSA. He believes that because he was able to succeed, many others can realize their potential as well: “This has been my radical metamorphosis to transform myself into an academic. In three and a half years, I transformed from truck driver to an academic!”