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APSU student will return to the Sudan to change lives, give positive view of Americans

At a time when the worlds perception of Americans is suffering, Hala Ismail, a graduate student who will receive her masters degree May 14 from Austin Peay, couldnt be more positive about her time here and the people shes met.
At a time when the world's perception of Americans is suffering, Hala Ismail, a graduate student who will receive her master's degree May 14 from Austin Peay, couldn't be more positive about her time here and the people she's met.

Ismail, who is from the Sudan, came to Chicago with her brothers so all three could pursue graduate studies in the United States. Although she began her master's degree at the University of Illinois, Ismail realized the program did not suit her needs. After some Internet research, she chose Austin Peay's M.S. in Public and Community Health and started the program online in Spring 2003.

After successfully completing the Fall 2003 semester online, Ismail decided to take a chance and move from Chicago to Clarksville to attend classes on campus in January 2004.

“I was a little scared to start school and live away from my brothers,” she says. “It's such a different culture. But I wanted to see the university I was going to graduate from and see the people I'd been talking with.”

If Ismail was “a little scared,” so were her brothers. One tried to stock her apartment with a semester's worth of groceries so she would not have to leave campus. However, Ismail soon discovered Americans were much different than she had expected.

“The people here are so friendly and so helpful. I have made many friends who I enjoy hanging around with, and they have offered me rides when I needed them,” says Ismail, who also has studied in Hungary and visited England, Germany and other European countries.

“I love the people here,” she adds. “This was my best decision ever.”

In addition, Ismail received one-on-one attention from health and human performance department professors, who were willing to focus her classwork toward projects relevant to her main goal: to return to the Sudan after graduation and provide health education for women and children.

“Hala knew what she wanted to do, because she already had been working in medicine in the Sudan,” says Dr. Rae Hansberry, associate professor of health and human performance. “She's very disciplined in her studies, and she's established a tremendous rapport with our other graduate students.”

Ismail, who worked as a volunteer with the Women's Health Organization before coming to America, points out that in the Sudan, many children under 5 fall victim to curable diseases due to poor nutrition. She plans to teach mothers the benefits of good nutrition and advise them on what types of foods to feed their children.

Hansberry credits Ismail with bringing a more global perspective to the classroom. When each student was assigned community health presentations and projects, Hansberry says Ismail's firsthand knowledge of the effects of malaria “brought a needed diversity to the classroom.”

In the student comments Ismail received after her presentation, one classmate wrote, “I was afraid that because of her accent, I would have a hard time understanding, but because you spoke clearly and with a beautiful accent, it wasn't a problem.”

Another said, “Your accent and dress took me into the region, making [your presentation] very interesting.”

But possibly the most telling comment came from a student who wrote, “Sometimes we don't appreciate the advantages in this country until we recognize the disadvantages of other countries.”

As she focuses on returning to the Sudan, Ismail is quick to thank everyone who eased her way at Austin Peay, including the staff of the health and human performance department and especially Hansberry, whom Ismail says has been like “a mother, a teacher and a friend.”
—Rebecca Mackey