Class of 2021: An Immigrant Student Navigates Her World, the Health Care System

Palestine immigrant Nour Abaherah

Nour Abaherah's family came from Palestine for a better life. Now she will work to better the lives of others through health care.

When Nour Abaherah's family immigrated from Palestine to the United States, the goal was to give Nour and her three siblings a chance at a better life.

"My parents have sacrificed everything for me and my siblings to have a good life and study," says Abaherah, the second of Casey Schneider and Khawla Abdalla's children to graduate from college. "They left their home country and their families for our sake, so my top goal is to make them proud."

By earning a bachelor's degree in health care administration with high honors, Abaherah is fulfilling her parents' wishes. Along her academic journey, she wrestled with doubts about where she fit in, but now that she's discovered her calling to contribute to health care administration, there's no stopping her.

"I chose to major in health care to get a better understanding of what this country is doing regarding the most important aspect of someone's life: their health," Abaherah says. "I was very ignorant about the health care system, its processes and where it needs improvement. Learning about ethics, rights, quality improvement, health care policy and systems enhanced my knowledge of where health care should be in our community and nation."

Marianne Raimondo, a professor who teaches health care administration courses and directs the Institute for Education in Health Care at RIC, calls Abaherah a rising star in the health care field. 

"Nour has stood out at RIC, and there's no doubt she will be a leader in the health care field who leads with compassion and passion to make a real difference in the lives of the many patients she touches," Raimondo says. 

Glowing reviews acknowledging Abaherah's invaluable contributions have flowed into Raimondo's office. In particular, Abaherah's work on a grant to create a career ladder to help advance certified nursing assistants in long-term care received high praise.

"Community partners commented on Nour's efficiency and intelligence and her ability to always go above and beyond to get the job done," Raimondo says. "She immediately jumped in, helping long-term organizations in the community to coordinate training programs for certified nursing assistants, analyze data, prepare reports and provide support. She is passionate about helping low-wage, frontline workers find a path forward."

Abaherah credited her health care professors, namely Raimondo, for guiding her path to academic excellence. 

"I think the professors are the shining part of my health care program," she says. "Professor Raimondo remains one of the most hard-working, empathetic and intelligent persons I've met. I aspire to be just as hard-working and important in my community. Many of my professors in health care are active in the field, conducting ongoing research and guiding students to specific jobs, internships and opportunities for experiencing health care firsthand. Their dedication to students is unparalleled."

Abaherah, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in health care administration at RIC this fall, says she feels sufficiently prepared to make her mark on a health care industry that's in a state of flux.

"As a nation we have faced major consequences during the past four years in health care, and now there is reform of programs like the Affordable Care Act, which extended health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans who needed it," she says. "I would say I'm hopeful for the future, but do we need vast improvement? Yes, totally. And are we working towards it? I'd say yes."

Although hopeful, Abaherah concedes that as a freshman she initially feared how she'd fit in at RIC as a young woman from Muslim roots. She also wondered how she would balance studying, working and keeping her art design side business afloat.

On both counts, those fears were unfounded, as the RIC campus embraced her, she says.

"The college experience is not an easy one, as many of us are in the stage of our lives where we are learning how to live life on our own and find ourselves along the way," she says. "The biggest hurdle for me was to accept that it is perfectly OK and normal to not only need a break, but also make mistakes and learn from them. I would encourage others to take care of their mental health along each step of the college experience."

And throughout every experience, Abaherah listens to her mom's sage advice tucked away in a corner of her mind.

"Mom always tells me to try my best, and that's always enough no matter the outcome," she says. "Every little accomplishment is worth celebrating and any downs will be followed by ups. In the dark, there will always be light."

Nour Abaherah

In 2021, Abeherah, an immigrant from Palestine, became the second of four children in her immediate family to graduate from college.