WSU Applebaum awards $15,000 in scholarships supporting diversity and inclusion

WSU Applebaum diversity & inclusion scholarship winners
Left to right: Samantha Matthews, Jennifer Gavia, Ala Sarsour, Haley Boccomino, donor Ronald Coleman, Aquandralyn Moore and Monisha Sanders at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars event.

Ten students in the Wayne State University Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences were awarded scholarships in recognition of their active contributions to diversity and inclusion. They were honored with the awards during the college's Donors & Scholars ceremonies and luncheons May 18-19, 2022.

Diversity Advisory Board Endowed Scholarship

Dean's Endowed Recruitment Scholarship

“Each of these students is an inspiration to so many,” said WSU Applebaum Scholarship Committee Chair and Occupational Therapy Program Director Doreen Head. “Their stories show tremendous resilience, grace and generosity. With these qualities, they will make a permanent impact as champions of diversity and inclusion here in our college, the city of Detroit and other communities, and their future professions. In fact, they already are.”


In their own words

Naser Alijabbari ’23
Physician Assistant Studies

Naser Alijabbari with the Rutan family
Naser Alijabbari (center) with the Rutan family at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony. Alijabbari is also the recipient of a scholarship the Rutans created in memory of their daughter, Lara. 

My aim as a future professional is to help meet the health care needs of our region’s extensive immigrant and refugee communities. When I was nine, I immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee from Iran by way of Turkey. My family and I came to the US with almost nothing. Though we sometimes faced discrimination, we also suddenly became the recipients of enormous goodwill from local charities and medical providers. I have since felt compelled to return the care I have received and make a tangible contribution to those in need. 

As a first-generation college student, a refugee (now US citizen), and a person of Middle Eastern and North African descent, I am viscerally aware of in the inequities of our society and the way they fall along lines of socioeconomic status, gender and race, as well as immigration status. I believe strongly that patients need to have health care providers who can not only represent their unique backgrounds but relate to their life experiences to prevent bias and even harm in patient care.

Haley Boccomino ’22
Physical Therapy

Haley Boccomino with Dean Brian Cummings
Haley Boccomino shakes hands with Dean Brian Cummings at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony.

While first navigating the PT professional landscape as a queer transgender person, I found myself feeling wildly out of place – there were none, amongst my faculty or my peers, to whom I could relate. This experience, however, helped me to recognize the severe under-representation of minority populations that still exists within our profession. A firm believer in the importance a workforce that is reflective of the populations we serve, I dedicated myself to helping fulfill this community need. 

My hopes of preventing future students from feeling as alienated as I once had fuel my efforts to further expand my profession. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to speak about diversity, equity and inclusion at various seminars with the aim of educating current health care professionals on curating a welcoming atmosphere, especially for LGBTQ patients. It was through these events that I recognized my desire to teach – an opportunity that the lack of transgender representation in my field had previously led me to view as unattainable.

Jacqueline Dalzell ’22
Mortuary Science

Life with two medically fragile family members ¬– my youngest daughter and my husband – is a challenge that takes grit, determination, and a positive attitude. But in the words of Henry Ford, “Obstacles are what you focus on when you take your eyes off your goals.” I have completed major accomplishments while raising this child and being the household breadwinner. I am currently in my second career in the Mortuary Science Program here at WSU, a dream since my middle school days. 

I am determined not to let this disadvantage stop me. I hope to support others challenged with medically fragile family members by setting an example of making good things happen despite the setbacks. I am determined to live life and pursue my dreams no matter what the obstacle. You may take it one day, one week, or one hour at a time, but take it and enjoy the rewards!

Jennifer Gavia ’22
Occupational Therapy

Jennifer Gavia and Dean Brian Cummings
Jennifer Gavia shakes hands with Dean Brian Cummings at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony.

I am a first-generation Latina from Southwest Detroit, known as “Mexicantown,” and one of the small percentage of people of color able to pursue graduate studies. Growing up in Detroit has its advantages and disadvantages, however I consider myself very fortunate because this city is made of diverse, resilient individuals that have always made the best of everything and in turn helped develop my own character. 

Although Detroit is on the “come up,” I am witness to the lack of resources that the SW community experiences, including trouble finding medical professionals who speak Spanish and who also understand many cultural customs. Therefore, I keep aim at becoming a bilingual OT to serve a larger population and give back to Detroit.

I am my family’s American Dream and will make the most out of this opportunity. 

Samantha Matthews ’23
Pathologists’ Assistant

Samantha Matthews
Samantha Matthews at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony.

When it comes to diversity, pathology is a highly underrepresented field. As a woman who is queer, colored and educated, I fit into multiple minority groups, some of which are the most marginalized. For this reason, creating and empowering visibility among underrepresented professionals in pathology is paramount to me. 

I’ve learned that there is power in my presence in settings that lack such diversity. With this power comes a trail of open doors through which others can follow to occupy the spaces that I’m confident I will create. My goal is to help as many people as I can and being that many different people can identify with me, I'm in a position to do just that. Anywhere I go within pathology and beyond, a diverse group of others will see themselves represented as well.

Rana Noori ’23
Doctor of Pharmacy 

Rana Noori
Rana Noori at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony.

I grew up in Iraq in the middle of war where any bombs, kidnapping or attacks could happen at any time. Innocent people were killed without doing anything wrong. I was going to school sometimes seeing dead bodies on the floor, not knowing if I was going to be back home again. So in January 2013, my family came to the United States. My life flipped upside down and I wasn’t ready for the new world. Everything was different. I struggled to communicate and to feel like I fit in. But I thought about all the dreams that I wanted to accomplish since I was young. I did not want to let anything destroy them. 

I never knew how strong I was until being strong was my only choice. I realized that being yourself is the most beautiful thing a person can be and that there is nothing wrong with being different. Diversity is important and we complete each other in this world. 

Monisha Sanders ’23
Radiation Therapy Technology

Monisha Sanders with RTT Progam Director Jeannetta Greer
Monisha Sanders with Radiation Therapy Technology Progam Director Jeannetta Greer at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony.

Until coming to Wayne State, I had never seen my race represented in academic leadership roles. In my junior class, I am not the only woman of color, but I am the only Black student. It makes me proud to represent African American women who are often underrepresented in healthcare. When I often feel discouraged, I keep my determination and focus by recalling how far I’ve come in the program and that the program director is also a woman of color. This inspires me to push forward and work harder. 

While working in the heart of Detroit I am also treating people like myself who come from diverse backgrounds and providing them with quality care. Having knowledge of diversity is so important because as a clinician you will be prepared to exercise compassion and understanding by treating people as human beings with thoughts and feelings and accounting for their beliefs and ideas. This is the key and allows us to build trust and establish a comfortable environment for our patients.

Ala Sarsour ’22
Occupational Therapy

Ala Sarsour
Ala Sarsour at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony.

As a Palestinian-Muslim male, it is uncommon to see someone like me in the field of occupational therapy. Though attending school a few miles from the highest concentration of Arab people in the US, I find myself to be the only Arab, Muslim male in my cohort. This inspires me to bridge the gap and maximize equity and inclusion for all people. 

Comfort is crucial when it comes to client care and, speaking from personal experiences, I know how disheartening it can be for someone to mispronounce your name after correcting them. As small as that may sound, it is a huge part of one’s identity. In the Arab community, mental health is not something that is commonly addressed, especially in men. Prioritizing clients’ comfort and making them feel understood will open up room for deeper discussion. 

Jasmine Sidhu ’23
Physician Assistant Studies

Jasmine Sidhu with Dean Brian Cummings
Jasmine Sidhu shakes hands with Dean Brian Cummings at the May 18, 2022, Donors & Scholars ceremony.

As a future PA, I not only want to be an advocate and voice for my future patients, but I want to be a part of reducing the health care disparities that we see evident right here in Detroit. One of the most important reasons I chose to attend the WSU Applebaum Physician Assistant Studies program is its focus on providing primary care to urban and underserved populations. 


An anchor in urban health care

The Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is built on more than 100 years of tradition and innovation in the heart of Detroit. We have grown deep roots in our city, harnessing its powerhouse hospital systems and community service organizations as vibrant, real-world training grounds for students, with an ongoing focus on social justice in health care. And our research at all levels – from undergraduates to veteran faculty members – translates into creative solutions for healthier communities.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering approximately 350 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 25,000 students.

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