Students feeling stressed around finals often want to blow off a little steam.
For the Yusuf family – Yaqoub ‘21, Yusra ‘23 and Yasira ‘24 – that meant getting together for sushi, the zoo, the mall and just hanging out for a day. It’s a favorite way for the three siblings to spend time together, and one of the best perks of coming to school together.
“I really enjoyed having my sisters there,” says Yaqoub, who completed the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences (BSHS) program in 2021. “It definitely took away from feeling homesick. I was on campus alone for the first two years, and it felt different when my sisters got there.” Yaqoub is now on the West Coast at San Francisco State University. He is pursuing a master’s degree in biology with a focus on physiology and behavior, part of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) fellowship PhD bridge program.
Yaqoub is the first in his family to go to college. His parents and extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins – immigrated to the United States from Somalia more than 20 years ago to escape war and famine.
“Higher education was always expected and a standard for us,” he says of his parents’ intentions for him and his four younger siblings. “How to achieve that was something I had to figure out. Thankfully, I had mentors along the way that helped me through.” At UMR, he credits his Health CORE advisor, research advisor and success coach. “That was one of the benefits of a smaller school: You have one assigned coach. I met with mine often, very often, multiple times a semester – not just looking for next semester’s courses, but for multiple reasons. I had a great relationship with my advisors. They knew basically everything I was doing. They knew what my strengths and my weaknesses were and they knew where to develop my skills and which courses to recommend for me to succeed.”
Reflecting on his accomplishments and mistakes has given him the knowledge and experience to pass on to his younger sisters, who followed his path to UMR.
Yusra arrived two years after her brother and is on track to graduate in 2023. “We all have different routes we want to take within this degree,” she says of the BSHS degree, which encompasses the prerequisites required for numerous health care career pathways. She intends to pursue a medical degree and specialize in dermatology.
Her desire to become a physician goes back to childhood. “I was always close to my personal physician as a kid, and also through different health issues along the way. Talking with them, they were just so understanding. It goes deeper than being supported. They were in my shoes, at age 7, 9, 11. They were so relatable. In my mind as a kid, they were superheroes.”
Yusra toured other top-ranked schools when considering the best fit for her, not taking for granted that she would follow in her brother’s footsteps. But UMR rose to the top of her list. “It was the only school where I could confidently say the faculty and students knew each other by name. Everyone greeted each other. You can walk the halls and feel like family – no one goes unnoticed. It was the one place everyone was so well-connected and there to help you succeed. What school did I see myself best succeeding at? UMR.”
Her passion for helping patients was fanned in her sophomore year of college by working as a Personal Care Attendant (PCA). “I loved it. As a float PCA I worked with patients in pediatrics, hematology, even the ICU. I connected with patients throughout the whole hospital. One patient had an anxiety attack in the room, and I was able to talk with her and calm her down. This is where I belong, and these are my strengths.”
This past year, Yusra served as the president of the Rochester Student Association (RSA), UMR’s student government. “Making direct changes to the campus and school was really important to me,” she says. With her leadership, RSA set goals for the year and also tackled specific projects. After hearing frequent requests from students, for instance, they created a reflection space on campus. They also partnered with other student groups to hold events, worked with the local food pantry and looked into mental health resources available to students. “When I see a need for change in a particular area, I think it’s important to have conversations about it and break that ice,” Yusra says.
This year, Yusra will expand her worldview while studying health care abroad in Thailand, which she sees as a perfect way to capstone her UMR experience.
Yasira, the third Yusuf sibling, came to UMR one year after Yusra and is on track to graduate in 2024. Yasira knew she wanted to pursue a career in health care, and when both older siblings told her how much opportunity UMR offered, she jumped at the chance. And having those two siblings for support was especially helpful during her first year. “They set some steps for me. It was nice for them to say, ‘Oh no, don’t think it’s too hard, we all did it.’” Andwhen they come together on one of their outings, Yasira says, they share what they’re learning about in their particular fields of study, much like they did growing up when they would share their different tastes in music and movies. “We found a way to bring each other into how we liked things,” she says. “Even though we’re different, we can still like the same things. We can help each other with our future professions. Whenever we need help, we know we can always be there for each other.”
She notes how pleased their parents are that the three siblings are together and can support one another, too. Like Yaqoub and Yusra, one of Yasira’s favorite family memories at UMR was a day during finals. “My older brother saw that we were all stressed, too busy in our schoolwork to focus on ourselves. He said, ‘Let’s go out to a movie and out to eat. Let’s take a break.’ That time away for ourselves, to hang out with siblings, even though we were busy and stressed [was so important]. When you find something you appreciate and like to do other than your work, it gives you more strength to keep going. You have to find something for yourself in this, otherwise you’re going to lose the thing you love in the work.”
And as her brother has gone on to the West Coast, and her sister will be heading to Thailand this spring, Yasira notes, “I’m just glad I got the opportunity to follow two amazing people’s footsteps and be able to continue our legacy as first-generation students.”
Truly, the UMR way of life has become a family affair for the Yusufs.
Read more stories from the Fall 2022 Alumni Magazine: The Kettle.