“I do not believe in luck. But I believe in ‘tesfa,’ which “means hope in the Ethiopian Tigrinya language. It has given me comfort throughout my chaotic, unwritten journey in my pursuit for education,” says Aziza Mustefa, one of two Falk College marshals who will lead the Class of 2015 during Convocation and Commencement ceremonies in May.

Mustefa is a dean’s list student majoring in public health who will begin graduate studies this fall at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. As she navigated through her undergraduate career in Falk College, she realized there is a deep connection between tesfa and her chosen career field.

“As a public health major, I appreciate the importance of being a servant leader, fighter for social justice, and an advocate for the improvement of the quality of life for all. While pursuing my undergraduate research, I found that I wasn’t only looking at malaria data. The data represented real people, and all I wanted to do was to connect with them.” During the Fall, Mustefa, a McNair Scholar, worked side-by-side with public health professor, David Larsen, on evaluating diagnostics and treatment for children stricken with malaria. As part of her McNair Scholar research, she is working on the Syracuse Lead Study with Falk Family Professor of Public Health, Brooks Gump.

Mustefa’s uncle emigrated to the United States from Ethiopia in the 1980s, with her parents arriving in 1991. “Refugees come from diverse backgrounds and have endured different struggles, but they all share the same fear and this is the fear that I want to address. My aspiration to serve the refugee community might seem lofty, but they are tesfa to me,” says Mustefa.

Reflecting on her public health coursework, Mustefa mentions Community Health as one of several that reinforced her career path. “In this course, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in a community, I observed the importance of social and cultural factors, and its effects on a population’s health.”

“I want to make a tangible difference among the underserved refugee population. While hopeful, the refugee population lacks the ability to navigate through the American system and culture. I want to be that person to walk by their side, similarly to what someone did for my family. Public health can prepare me to be the best I can be for others.”