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Category: Student Group

Frances Imarhia (’22)

Meet Frances Imarhia (she/hers), a sophomore from Granbury, Texas. Frances is a Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) candidate and plans to concentrate in Biomedical Engineering. She is also a junior representative for First-Generation/Underrepresented in Medicine (FURM). Read the full interview below:

How are you? How’s your year going so far?
I’m doing well surprisingly. My year has been really busy. I decided to take 5 classes this semester. So far, I’ve been managing it. You can say managing very loosely. I’ve been really busy but in a good way. I think I’m getting a lot accomplished and starting to really settle in here. 

Can you tell me a bit about your work with FURM?
I’m currently a junior representative for FURM. First of all, I’m a PLME, which coming here I was really excited about. I quickly grew to notice as a PLME you’re surrounded by a lot of people who have been exposed to medical and higher education for pretty much their entire life.

For people like me who are first-generation, there are obvious differences in our experiences in the field and our comfort talking to physicians. When I heard about FURM, I saw it as something that was really necessary. I was looking for more ways to get involved. That’s how I became a junior rep.

My freshman year, I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome. Getting to know these people in the UFLi community and the FURM community and realizing that these intelligent and talented people also felt the same way, it made me feel like maybe I’m not the problem. I felt really comforted by that fact so I’m hoping to help other people who feel the same way. 

Advice you’d give your freshman year self?
Learn to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. Specifically in the STEM community for UFLi students, we typically come from schools that are underfunded or not well run. We don’t start off on the same playing field as our peers, so it makes intro classes very difficult. I struggled in multivariable calculus. Half the people in the class had taken it in high school. At my high school, the calculus class was basically just us watching Khan Academy trying to piece things together. It feels like you’re playing catch up, so it’s not wrong to ask for help. We’re the ones those resources are here for. We deserve to be here just as much as anyone else.

Carla Yuridia Balvaneda (’22)

Meet Carla Yuridia Balvaneda (she/hers), a sophomore from Southern California. Carla plans to concentrate in International and Public Affairs, and potentially Education Studies as well. She is also the Community Outreach Chair for First-Gens@Brown. Read the full interview below:

How are you?
I’m alive. I’ve actually been doing pretty well I think. I almost don’t recognize myself with how well I’m doing. I’m putting support systems in place and taking care of myself in ways that I didn’t prioritize in other semesters. I really enjoy my classes this semester also.

Why did you decide to get involved with First-Gens@Brown?
I think coming in as a first-year, move-in day was probably the worst day. I remember during orientation week there was an event for U-FLi students. I almost cried because I remember hearing things that resonate with me. Coming here and not knowing a single soul was kind of alienating, along with the introduction to academia. Being involved with First-Gens@Brown was a way to be involved with the U-FLi Center and a group that works together to empower students. I think it was helpful for me to find that community and help foster that community I was looking for. 

Any advice for first years?
Go to CAPS. I think it’s okay to not know, whether that’s what I want to concentrate in or feeling lost. I’ve realized that that’s not something only I was experiencing. Also definitely take advantage of resources, like being able to communicate with alumni, talking to deans, going to office hours. It’s definitely something I wasn’t comfortable with my first year because I didn’t have experience with it and was learning how to navigate it. I wish I had taken more risks in those areas. In terms of balancing family expectations and my expectations, I’ve realized that what really matters is what I want to do and that I enjoy doing what I want to do.

Who are you outside of Brown?
I feel like that’s something that lately I’ve been trying to figure out. In realizing that I’m going home, or things outside of school, I think it’s hard sometimes. Being on campus and living here, it feels like Brown is everything but I remind myself I’m only 19 years old. Being here is only a small part of who I’m going to be and who I want to be.

I also like literary fiction. I like hot cheetos with cheese, with lemon, or Valentina.

Hemant Kadiamada (’20)

For our Community Narrative this week, we interviewed Hemant Kadiamada (he/him/his), a senior concentrating in Public Health and participating in Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME). Hemant was raised in Southern California, but also considers his mother’s hometown in Mexico and his father’s hometown in India some of his homes. Read more below:

How are you? How’s your year going so far?
Right now I would say that I’m in a good place in my life. This  year is so different from any other year at Brown, and most of that difference is a lot of good. I think a big change is definitely the classes that I’m taking and the things that I’m doing. It’s a mix of classes and also projects and opportunities. It’s so easy to remind myself I’m doing this because I really like doing it. It’s so easy to bring myself happiness through the work that I’m doing.

Freshman and sophomore year, I was doing a lot of the PLME requirements. Going into Brown, I knew I wanted to pursue a medical track but I was also so young. I didn’t know a lot about what that meant. I was kind of following a premed journey. I think in that way, premeds really have a difficult time because they have to take such rigorous classes that require a lot of time.

I think medicine is so beautiful because it has this human aspect rooted into it – connecting with people, listening to people’s stories, and wanting to guide them to live a good life. That’s also why I really love Public Health. It’s really the bridge to me. I think it’s a beautiful way to remind myself that as I’m going into medicine, people are more than what goes on in their bodies. We all have journeys we go though. Those are just as, if not more, valid than the genetics or biological factors we’re born with. 

Advice you’d give your freshman year self?
I would actually say don’t be afraid to think about yourself outside of Brown and remember that the world is so big. Yes, my place here matters so much, being in school and pursuing an opportunity that is my own and is really a manifestation of what I want to do in this world, but don’t be afraid of the world around you, of experiencing new things, of possibly facing challenges.

Even if I go through something difficult, I believe that I have the strength to continue going. Even if I can’t do it on my own, I have the ability to ask for help, whether that be through family, friends, or other resources.

Who are you away from Brown?
Away from Brown, I am a person who really loves this world. When I think about the world, I think about my family. I think about where my family is. I also think about my cultures. I also really love my spirit of adventure and wanting to explore new things to really see what this life offers. 

I really like exploring the world around me and observing and listening. When I’m back home, I go on a bike ride that’s from my house to the beach, which is like 2 hours. I like going to a new area and just adventuring around, seeing new things. Away from Brown, I would say I’m someone who really values this present moment.

Omar Alani (’22)

For our Student Highlight this week, we interviewed Omar Alani (he/him/his), a sophomore from Malden, Massachusetts concentrating in Neuroscience. Read more below:

How are you? How’s your year going so far?
I’m doing well! This is a little different. I had surgery in August on my vocal cords to remove a cyst and since then I have been instructed not to talk. It’s genuinely a unique experience for me. Communication is much more difficult, but taking ASL this semester has taught me new ways of communication which is really fun. I’ve learned to listen more this year, something everyone should be actively practicing. That’s the only way we can learn what our family, friends, communities, etc. need. Listening to ourselves is just as important to know who we are, what our strengths are, where we can improve, to know how we can support those around us.

What does it mean to you to be UFLi?
To be UFLi means to be part of a community that uplifts one another to raise our voices and make sure we are heard. Although we may come from similar backgrounds we all have a unique story and being part of the UFLi center means our stories are heard and celebrated making us feel comfortable and welcome.

Can you tell me a bit about what you’re involved with on campus? Why are you involved with those communities?
I am involved with BRYTE, QuestBridge, PALs through Bonner, and the Muslim Student Association. I am involved with each organization because each community holds a marginalized identity where their voices are almost never heard.

Being Syrian myself and witnessing the direct effect the Syrian Crisis had on my family led me to join BRYTE to tutor refugee youth and empower them to have the ambition to use their voice.

As a QuestBridge Scholar, I understand that the voices of the low-income community are not represented enough in today’s world so I became involved to empower students like me to advocate for their rights and feel welcome in places they may have never imagined themselves to be, like Brown University. 

I work with PALs as a tutor for disabled adults because they deserve the same attention and happiness everyone else enjoys in the world and by spending quality, intimate time with them, one can truly bring positive change into their lives.

Working as in intern with the chaplain of the MSA I try to make the muslim community at Brown more diverse and inclusive to bring about different perspectives and ideas that otherwise may never been heard. In doing so, I hope to create a stronger community that empowers one another to again speak up and talk about issues that muslims face in our communities so that we can work together to solve these issues.

What community has been most influential in making Providence feel like home?
Going to my BRYTE family’s house makes me feel like I’m at home. Being able to speak arabic to my BRYTE family and share dinner with them reminded of my family. The smell of the house, the food, the people, everything reminds me of home. These refugee families that welcome us into their homes so openly and so warmly that it would make anyone feel at home.

Favorite memory at Brown?
My favorite memory at Brown would have to be when my friends surprised me with Celtics tickets on my birthday. They took me to the mall first to get me a Celtics shirt then drove me up to the game. After the game, we went out for burgers. This meant a lot to me because I never celebrated my birthday like that before. I’ll always remember that day.

Advice you’d give your freshman year self?
Do what you love and what you’re interested in because that’s the best time to explore and understand who you are as a person. Through exploration, we discover our true motivations, ambitions, and surround ourselves with the right people where everyone’s growth is mutually supported.

Kris Cho (’22)

For our Student Highlight this week, we interviewed Kris Cho (she/hers), a sophomore from Columbia, Missouri. Cho is concentrating in Public Policy and Ethnic Studies. Read more below:

How’s your year going so far?
Surprisingly okay. I’ve definitely had ups and downs but I think we’re either at net zero or net positive. I’m finally starting to put routines in my schedule and use new organizational methods that are working really well for me. That’s not to say I don’t have sophomore angst trying to navigate this institution, but I think I finally started taking care of myself in a way that’s much more intentional this year. Because of that I want to reward myself by saying I’ve been having a pretty good time. Also, I just saw my sister last weekend so that’s pretty great.

Can you tell me a bit about what you’re involved with on campus?
I’m involved with Brown Asian Sisters Empowered (BASE), a really amazing organization that really got me through my first year at Brown. It’s a really beautiful community of these incredible political Asian womxn that really just uplift each other and empower each other. I’m so so so fortunate to be part of it. 

I’m also involved with WORD! performance poetry. We are a POC/queer POC spoken word group and it’s really awesome. Also got me through my first year, also getting me through this year. I came into Brown not having done a lick of poetry and really wanting to get back to or find creative outlets. Storytelling was really important to me in a lot of different ways so I was kind of drawn to this group. It’s been really central to communities I’ve been able to find here and different outlets I’ve been able to find here. For the first time last year, I started calling myself a poet and that was really powerful. 

I also just joined the Brown Progressive Action Committee, which I have mostly interacted with via Facebook events and mobilization events that have popped up on my feed. I’m really excited for all the work that we’re doing with them. I did a lot of local politics back home in Missouri so I think especially last year I really wanted to get back to it. I think a lot of local politics is really important. There’s a lot of tangible change that comes from local politics. It gives me a sense of purpose and drive when things are happening where you can see them.

What does it mean to you to be UFLi?
I think it depends on the day. Sometimes it’s really tough, like seeing what I don’t have access to and seeing what some of my friends have access to. Sometimes it feels really heavy to know the almost invisible disparities that I know exist between me and other students, and sometimes even disparities within the community. I know and want to acknowledge that I have certain levels of privilege in this own community. I think on other days it’s really incredible to see the kind of spaces that UFLi students have created here. I am so so so grateful for the community and the love and the warmth that is so pervasive in this area and this space. Not this physical space right across from the SciLi – I feel like the SciLi radiates bad energy. Except for the 5th floor. Love you Renata and Julio. But yeah, I think the most marginalized identities come with an ability to be aware of certain things that the majority of campus is not aware of. Of course it’s frustrating sometimes, but also it’s really empowering to be like hey we have have this very important point of view that you can’t just read out of a textbook. I think that is really validating to the importance of existence. 

What community at Brown has been influential in making it feel like a home?
Honestly, to a certain extent Brown does feel more like a home than Missouri, just as a queer Asian person. Of course there are things I miss about Missouri but I think this is the first place where I’ve really been able to feel like I can be out and find spaces where I can explore what it means to be queer and Asian. I think BASE was a really great space for that just because there are so many queer Asian people who I really respect and look up to and love so so so deeply. I think Twitter also. Not going to expand on that, but Twitter.

Advice you’d give your first-year self?
It’s okay to not be okay. Transitions are really hard. You have the space to allow yourself to make mistakes, even though it feels like you can’t make those mistakes. Even though there are people that tell you you can’t make those mistakes. There are people around you and resources around you who will help you recover and grow, so it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to not be okay.

Santi Hernandez (’21)

This week, we interviewed Santi Hernandez (they/them), a junior from Los Angeles, CA, for our weekly student highlight series. Hernandez is concentrating in Public Health & Ethnic Studies. They are involved with the Queer Alliance (QA), Nurturing Alignment through the Brown Center for Students of Color (BCSC), The Next Thing (TNT), and Bonner Community Fellows through the Swearer Center. Read more below:

How’s your semester so far?
Where do I even start? I think this semester, I don’t know what about it, but I’ve been reflecting a lot and reevaluating, especially because I’ve hit the halfway mark of Brown. I’ve kind of gotten into a half-college-crisis of what I’ve done these past few years, how I’ve grown these past few years, and what I want to accomplish in the rest of my time here. So it’s really daunting to think about but I think it’s forced me to reevaluate how I want to spend the rest of my time here and how I want to be present.

What are you most excited for this semester?
I’m really excited for two things: The Next Thing, which we call TNT, and Nurturing Alignment. Aquielle, the other TNT coordinator, has been putting in a lot of work to really build up the community of queer and trans people of color on campus and to make our presence visible. I’m really excited to support her in that. For me, my role is more of support because Aquielle is really taking on the work of planning meetings and holding space, whether it’s just to build community and make ourselves known and seen and really affirming each other.

For Nurturing Alignment, they’re focusing on specific skills that are applicable. We’re putting into practice making practical tools that you can use whether in this community or through skill building workshops. One that’s coming up is on how to build boundaries. Others we’re exploring are how to address harm, how to get more in tune with your body and with your emotions.

Favorite memory at Brown?
I think I’ve had this moment with a lot of people, but it’s been the one on one conversations that have really been an a-ha moment. That’s the best way I can explain it – kind of like an epiphany. Those one on one conversations where I learned something about myself and learned something about another person. I feel like those talks have especially shaped the way that I move around at Brown. I think I’m not a person that thrives in big groups, so I would say it’s not one favorite memory because right now I can think to a couple people that I talked to that have really changed my perception in some way.

Advice you’d give your freshman year self?
Oof — I feel like if I’m giving real advice, it might be something along the lines of, things are going to be shitty and the transition is going to be ugly but know that all these obstacles are going to help you grow in the long run. Most of all, be gentle with yourself. I think that’s something I’ve been telling all my friends when I give advice. I say you have to be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself the way you treat other people. I find I’m more hard on myself so take things day by day, week by week.

I think if I had just been patient, not rushing growth, I think I could have been in a much better headspace. I think that would be my overarching advice: don’t rush growth. 

Agnes Tran (’22)

We’re excited to share we’ll be continuing U-FLi student highlights into the new academic year! For our first highlight of the semester, we interviewed Agnes Tran (she/her/hers), a sophomore from Covina, CA. Tran is considering Public Policy/Econ or International and Public Affairs as her concentration. She is also a member of IMPULSE Dance Company, Vietnamese Students Association, and a writer for Visions Magazine. She’s also looking to interview UFLi students as her project for the Storytellers for Good Fellowship. Read more below:

How are you? How’s your semester so far?
I’m good. I think it’s been pretty good. Mainly getting into the groove of doing school work after a summer of not reading. This summer, I interned at a multimedia journalism company in Vietnam. About 90% of my time was spent translating articles into English. I can’t read Vietnamese so I spent a lot of time on Google Translate.

Can you tell me a bit about what you’re involved with here at Brown?
On campus, I’m part of IMPULSE Dance Company so I dance a lot with them. I’m also on the academic proposal team for the Southeast Asian Studies Initiative and part of the Vietnamese Students Association. Sometimes I write for Visions Magazine. 

This year, I’m on the board for IMPULSE. I’m the Community Chair. Technically I’m in charge of workshops so I thought I should try to lead some of them. Last Saturday was my first time doing it. It was very scary but probably one of the most memorable things I’ve done at Brown so far.

Why did you audition for IMPULSE?
I saw IMPULSE before ADOCH and I really remember thinking this is the kind of school I want to go to. In auditions, I came in with the mindset that it was a workshop so I wouldn’t be too stressed about it.

I heard you’re also working on a storytelling project. Can you tell me more about it?
Students are able to apply through the Swearer Center with project ideas so mine was talking about first-gen low-income narratives at Brown or other elite institutions. It’s a year long project. You can write, make a podcast, use photography, or video.

I really like writing and I wanted to use storytelling as a venue for social change and policy. I feel like a lot of students at Brown aren’t familiar with FLi narratives so maybe this would help bridge the gap between those two groups.

I’m looking for anyone who’s interested in sharing stories. If anyone has any experiences they’d be comfortable sharing, I’d love to talk them.

What does it mean to you to be UFLi?
I think it means being resilient and resourceful. Being a part of two worlds and knowing how to navigate that. I think a lot of it is remembering who helped you get here, why you’re still here, and the people in your life that have shaped you for the better – and for me it’s family.

Lastly, advice you’d give your freshman year self?
You’re not going to be a neuroscientist – or anything related to STEM. You need to breathe because you still have 3 years to figure things out.

First-Gens@Brown Co-Presidents: Valerie Castro ’20 and Lynna Ngo ’21

Meet Lynna and Valerie – the new co-presidents of First-Gens@Brown! We met with them last Sunday to discuss their experiences with the group & any advice they might have for students who are struggling to adjust to life at Brown. 

Valerie Castro (’20)

Why did you decide to run for eboard positions?
“I was really interested in continuing to be involved with the group, in having a main position. Last year, it was nice to talk to Amy, talk to Ashley, so I wanted to continue being involved and I thought one way to do that was to know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Lynna Ngo (’21)

Why did you decide to run for eboard positions?
“I think coming as a first year on campus, there can be a lot of challenges. Not only readjusting to Brown, learning how the college system works without having parents to guide you, and I think going to FG@B provided a community and direction, not only for myself, but for other students who are learning how to navigate Brown, and I thought it was a great community space.”

What would you tell someone who is thinking of joining but hasn’t gotten involved yet?
If you’re curious, you can either talk to one of us or you can show up to meetings at any point during the semester, whether you’ve been here for a week or you’re a senior, you’re completely welcome to come a meeting to see what we’re all about.

L: If you are looking to make new friends and build a community space, come join – we welcome people no matter how involved you want to be with the FLi or First-Gens@Brown community. Come check it out to see how it is, learn about the resources, and connect with friends.

Advice for first-years struggling to adjust to life at Brown?
Based on my personal experiences, I’ve found that joining clubs and not being by myself all the time was really helpful. When I struggle, I tend to isolate myself. Once I started having the confidence to go to clubs by myself and meet a bunch of new people, go to different events, it was a place to find other people that were struggling like to me and it’s easier to overcome them when you have support.

L: Take advantage of campus resources, whether it means going to tutoring, going to CAPS, talking to Dean Elie about financial support  — don’t be afraid to ask for help, because Brown has the resources, you just have to go and utilize them.

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