Syracuse University transfer student Hassina Adams ’20 is originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. After losing her mother in 2014, she isolated herself. Grief pushed her to withdraw from people as she dealt with her emotions, she says. But her withdrawal helped her realize that she ultimately needed to be around people. “I needed to be engaged, to have a support system around me to help me cope with grief,” she says.
Adams immigrated to Syracuse with her family in 2015. Two months later, she discovered the North Side Learning Center (NSLC), which serves over 250 people annually with education programs and is a critical resource for newcomers in the community. Volunteers from Syracuse University and the broader community help NSLC provide support to Syracuse’s north side, a neighborhood that’s experienced an influx of international refugees in recent years.
A Home Away from Home
Adams first went to the NSLC to meet people. She found it to be a welcoming place where she immediately felt at home. She soon volunteered her own time and went on to become a lead teacher at the center, developing educational programs for middle school students and those for whom English is a second language. In addition to creating lesson plans and activities on a weekly basis, she worked closely with over 30 area families to foster academic success and build a sense of community. Syracuse’s north side proved to be the community Adams needed, with new neighbors helping her family adapt. But when she started school at a nearby community college, the experience was very different. She didn't have anyone to help her navigate. “I had to figure out a lot of things on my own, which prompted me to develop my own advocacy and communication skills.”
While attending community college, Adams studied with a friend who was enrolled at Syracuse University. She was immediately impressed. “I would go to the library and borrow some books, and I just loved how hospitable the people were,” she says. “They would go the extra mile to help me in what I needed.” Adams was also attracted to the research opportunities and learning environment that Syracuse University offered. “I love the big campus, and coming from a small college I felt like I needed that change.”
Finding Common Ground on Campus
In 2017, Adams transferred to Syracuse University. It was then she became aware of the Dean's Team , a group of student ambassadors in the College of Arts and Sciences who help new students with their transition to campus. She applied to the Dean’s Team because she understood firsthand the struggles of others who were joining a new community. “I've always been a person who is empathetic to the experiences of other people,” Adams says. Her goal was to create a support system that didn’t exist for her.
Since transferring, Adams has flourished and continues to empower others. She is a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program . “It keeps me grounded, but at the same time very ambitious,” she says. Adams enjoys being a member of a highly competitive program that fosters diversity, inclusion and academic scholarship.
Adams was also selected as a 2019-20 Remembrance Scholar , representing Pamela Elaine Herbert, one of the students who perished on Pan Am Flight 103. Learning about Herbert has been a “whirlwind” of an experience, she says. After connecting with Herbert’s sister, Adams found that she and Pamela Herbert shared a passion for welcoming people and impacting their community in a positive way. “Pamela loved working with the homeless, and it was something that she wanted to do when she returned from London, but she didn't get the opportunity,” Adams explains. “I like working in my community, especially with students who are new immigrants that have just been resettled and are still adapting to their new home. That drive to volunteer really drew me to her as well.”
Adopting a Global Perspective
Now a senior, Adams is majoring in international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs , with concentrations in international security and diplomacy and a focus on the Middle East North Africa region. “I'm in the process of working on my capstone, which will look at how ISIS recruits women, primarily those in Western countries, as opposed to those already in the Middle East,” she says. This spring she joined the Maxwell-in-Washington program, where her courses focus on global issues and international political economy. “Being in D.C. has been academically and professionally enriching,” she says. The program includes a traveling seminar that gave Adams the chance to tour the National Security Council and meet its director for NATO and European Affairs, Markus Thomi. She is also interning at Ayuda, a nonprofit that provides legal, social and language services to immigrants. Even as her focus shifts toward complex international challenges, Adams continues to embrace her passion for helping others adapt to change and thrive.