"For the first time, I truly felt my first generation identity really taking shape."
Naa, University of Chicago
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
When Naa Ashitey became a National College Match Finalist, she didn’t realize that QuestBridge would help send her to college in her own backyard. Born and raised in Chicago, Naa grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood and is currently attending the University of Chicago. She is studying creative writing and has a minor in biology, intending to work in research and eventually complete a PhD in immunology. Naa is involved in her UChicago QuestBridge Scholars Network chapter and the COVID-19 student government committee, serves as the vice president of her on-campus house, and is currently working on immunological research at an on-campus lab. She is also an Odyssey Scholar, enjoys jujitsu, and is working on writing short stories about the problems that come with stigmatizing mental health in minority communities.
Despite all of these successes and accomplishments, however, Naa’s transition to the University of Chicago was not without challenges. Once she arrived on campus her freshman year, she found herself in a whole new world — one which was quite foreign from the Chicago she was raised in. She remembers, “For the first time, I truly felt my first generation identity really taking shape. I'll never forget a moment from my freshman orientation, where I was in a room with 40 different students and we had to do this activity where you walk in the center of the room when the moderator says something that matches you. They said ‘Walk in the center if you will be the first person in your family to graduate college’. I was the only person who walked in the center”.
Naa soon found her footing on campus and learned to adjust to this new environment, and she found a home in the vibrant first generation community at UChicago. Struck by the obstacles that she and so many other first generation students around her had encountered, she was inspired to begin a project in 2018 which would require professors to be trained on diversity and inclusion. She describes the goal of this project: “This way, people who come from all educational backgrounds can be successful and feel included. This program will start within the STEM department but I hope for it to evolve into a mandatory training”. Upon arriving at UChicago, Naa noticed some of her professors had treated her differently because of her identities, and she was unsure how to use the resources at hand. “I did not even realize what circumstances would warrant going to office hours,” Naa explains. “I thought you had to ask intelligent questions to go, and this deterred me from going my first year”. Naa hopes this program she has pioneered will help students in STEM like her who were not prepared for the rigorous content of their classes without the preparation from top private high schools.
While Naa had some challenges adjusting to her new college campus, she is grateful for the help that QuestBridge gave her during her college application process. She remembers QuestBridge aiding her with application fee waivers, and she highly recommends planning ahead to mitigate application stress, which QuestBridge allowed her to do through the early National College Match process. She reflects, “The biggest impact was meeting scholars through the QuestBridge Facebook group. I remember connecting with so many people through a giant group chat, and we would edit each other’s essays in preparation for college”. Naa was even able to meet some of the students she connected with online at the National College Admissions Conference, where she remembers QuestBridge founder and CEO, Ana McCullough, giving a keynote speech, which she found to be particularly insightful during an election year, when first generation students so greatly needed a network to rely on. During the application process, Naa also found support from her parents and her various high school counselors and teachers.
While certainly a very accomplished student today, Naa’s ambition began at a young age. She remembers, “When I was 5-years old, I told my parents I wanted to go to Princeton. That was my dream school and I wanted to be a doctor, judge and a lawyer. Even though I didn't understand what I was getting myself into, there was something about going to college and going to a Princeton or a Yale or a UChicago at age 5 which stuck in my mind. I knew these places had resources for me and if I got there, there would be a chance I could accomplish all of those wild dreams I had”. Naa will be graduating from UChicago in 2021, and she has learned a lot from her experiences. When asked if there is anything important that attending a top college has taught her, Naa responded with, “College has taught me to be gentle with myself, and just accept things as they go”.