Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Resilient UTSA grad Aisha Bah leaves road paved with determination for fellow international students to succeed

Resilient UTSA grad Aisha Bah leaves road paved with determination for fellow international students to succeed


NOVEMBER 28, 2022 — On her first day of class, Aisha Bah couldn’t get past the computer’s login screen. She didn’t understand how. She’d pressed down on the CTRL button, hit the ALT key once and continued to tap DELETE. The screen didn’t budge.

It also didn’t hold her back.

This was the first of many challenges Bah, a first-generation and UTSA Honors College student, would face and overcome during her time at UTSA. She’ll be graduating next month with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

“I see how far I’ve come and how much each challenge has put me in the position to accomplish anything.”

“Studying computer science was difficult not having any previous knowledge of what computer science was or how to type at full speed,” Bah said. “But it was possible. Growing up in a single-parent household, my mother made me understand that higher education was my escape from poverty. Education for me is a passion, but it’s also my first investment in my future. I find that it’s more of what can I invest in to gain back and also give back. That’s where computer science stood out to me. Not only can I solve problems, but I can also provide technological solutions to issues affecting underdeveloped countries.”

After her father died, Bah was prompted by her mother to apply for schools abroad to advance her educational wealth.

She arrived in the United States for the first time in 2019 from Monrovia, the capital city of the West African country of Liberia. The country’s limited technology infrastructure—the result of a yearslong civil war—offers minimal access into a digital world. It didn’t matter to Bah that she had never had a computer or been away from home longer than a week.

She grasped onto the opportunity and transferred to UTSA as an international student from the Stella Maris Polytechnic University, where she studied agricultural science.

“I had a challenging time adjusting to the new way of learning and living coming from a country with a poor education system and technological infrastructures. I had no family or friends in San Antonio and, as a result, navigating my way into the new culture became a challenge. I struggled with basic things like opening a bank account, uploading my assignments, signing up for classes and getting a social security number,” Bah recalled. “I see how far I’ve come and how much each challenge has put me in the position to accomplish anything. I’m making sure that I leave a footprint of impact, that I’m not just taking but also giving back because I really do believe that giving back has helped me reach where I’m at today.”

Bah founded the International Students Association — the first group if its kind at UTSA — in 2020. Initially, she sought to provide students from abroad with support, inclusion and greater access to career opportunities.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Students, especially international, were struck with uncertainty. Bah had already known a couple of international students through social media so she started a group chat with them. They shared the link and by the end of the day there were 300 students. The chat became a central hub of information. As a member of the UTSA President’s Student Advisory Council, Bah began to use her position to advocate for the group and helped identify grant opportunities for students who were far away from home during the pandemic.

The International Student Association became an official university organization in 2021.

“It was not a limitation but more of a challenge,” Bah said of her journey thus far. “The moment that light showed I had a chance of accomplishing something way better, I didn’t take it for granted. I had seen other people accomplish it. As humans, we have the same brains and same capability to learn and accomplish the same things. I just had to put in extra work. I didn’t for once think it was going to be easy. For me, if it’s not uncomfortable, then it’s easy. If it’s easy, I don’t want it.”

Much of Bah’s success has been outside her comfort zone. Her most recent venture took her to New York, where she spent the summer as an intern with the Hybrid Software Engineering Department at IBM. The internship has been among three outstanding professional experiences Bah secured during her time at UTSA.

“There are a lot of people who have helped and supported me along the way. They give me a reason for wanting to show the light for others. That’s the main goal of the International Student Association, exposing students to the light of opportunities that are here for them. When I’m faced with a roadblock and feel like giving up, I can’t because I remember how much time and effort others have made to get me this far. Cynthia Roberts believed in me, I cannot let her down. Stacie Garza believes I can do it and has invested in me, I cannot let her down. Dean Kelly believes I belong at UTSA, I cannot let him down. Dr. Chapman has invested his time in me, I cannot let him down. Chuku Birch has invested and supported me, I cannot disappoint him. Chipo Nyambuyah believes in me, I cannot let her down. This is one of many affirmations to keep going.”

Most of Bah’s strength and motivation, however, comes from her mom.

“I’m doing it for her and to tell the next little Liberian girl there’s a world out there for you and you belong in it. These are the reasons I push myself. These are my goals: to reach the higher heights and encourage the next little girl out there that higher education is possible. It’s possible to accomplish anything you want,” Bah said.

Ari Castañeda

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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