“My hijab,” said Radhia Abdirahman, a junior double majoring in human biology and global international studies and minoring in African and African diasporic languages. “It’s an integral part of my being. My spirituality is an important component of who I am, and my hijab embodies that piece of me.”
With her double major and minor, Abdirahman aspires to work in public health and focus on infectious diseases and global communities. “Interdisciplinary work may be hard, but it’s so worth it. I’m really interested in looking at marginalized identities and the intersections between refugees, immigrants, people who live in the U.S. and people of color — and trying to reduce health disparities.”
Abdirahman was born in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She came to KU to be close to her family and is grateful for her experience thus far. “I’m really happy I chose KU. My family is important to me, so I wanted to be close but also have a space to grow as an individual and explore my interests and passions. There are so many opportunities here. Being in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences allows me the freedom to combine my interests.”
Abdirahman’s passion is working with people and giving back to the community. She started college when she was 17 and believes getting involved on campus aided in a smooth transition. “Meeting people and adjusting to big classes was hard for me at first. I said to myself, ‘I can either wait for things to happen to me or I take control of my situation and put myself out there.’ Getting involved on campus helped me meet people and figure out who I am.”
On campus, she’s been involved with the University Honors Program, Muslim Student Association and the Center for Community Outreach (CCO). As vice president of the Muslim Student Association, she introduced a big/little mentorship program for college and high school students at the local Masjid. She planned CCO’s 30th anniversary fundraising event, which supported 12 programs including Hawks for Health, Jubilee Cafe and the Campus Cupboard. She also was an Integrated Arts Research Initiative fellow through the Spencer Museum of Art and was recently named as KU’s 2021-22 Newman Civic Fellow. The Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes students who are dedicated to making change in society and show commitment to their community and public problem solving.
Abdirahman plans to graduate in May 2022 and attend graduate school. Her goal is to eventually work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The crazy thing is, I had these aspirations before COVID-19. I started off as a pre-med student. I knew I wanted to work with Doctors Without Borders. I knew I wanted to work with the World Health Organization. As I learned more about my interests, I figured out medicine isn’t for me, but public health is and fits my goals.”
She is grateful for her KU experience and the support she has received. Scholarships and awards have provided extended learning opportunities that inspired her path. “My internship with Dr. Kathryn Rhine really changed what I wanted to do. It truly took everything I was interested in — cultural competency, a focus on Africa, health, social justice — and put it into one internship. Experiences outside of the classroom helped me figure out what I want to do after KU.”