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Nafisa Chowdhury

Double-major works to get other students
   involved on campus

By John Simard

Nafisa Chowdhury, a senior with a double major in history and economics, is continually looking for opportunities at Harpur College not only to get involved, but to actively lead. She is president of the Poverty Awareness Coalition, president of Phi Alpha Theta (the honors society for history), and is actively involved in Teach for America.

"I've been volunteering since I was 14 years old." Chowdhury says. "In my freshmen year, I came across the Poverty Awareness Coalition, which was a year old. The club had only executive board members and I was its only non-executive member. So there were nine people total, eight of whom were in charge of me.

"While it was in its infancy, I saw that the club had potential. I wanted to take this group, which had just started, and propel it as far as I could. So that's what I did, I ran for positions and got our name out there. More people on this campus know about us now then they did when I was a freshman, which is huge to me."

Stephen Ortiz, associate professor of history and Chowdhury's thesis advisor, describes her as "a self-initiating type of student."

"You give her a couple ideas and the next thing you know she is out there working on them," he says. "She works hard, not just doing what you tell her to do, but in finding her own way. She has traveled a very different path through Binghamton, being a dual major in history and economics—not many students pursue that combination."

As a campus recruiter for Teach for America, Chowdhury has worked to place students in the best position for their future.

"I am the person you see in your classrooms giving the five-minute (talk)," she says. "I also do many one-on-one meetings with people who are interested in the program. I try to get them through the application process, giving them as much of a leg up as possible. We really want Binghamton students to succeed and get as far as they can."

Chowdhury says organization is the key to her success.

"Don't bite off more then you can chew and know your priorities: You are a student first," she says. "I would recommend for a freshmen or a sophomore to get to know as many clubs as possible, but eventually pick a few and really invest yourself. It's not about the quantity, and how long you can make your résumé, but the quality of participation. How involved are you in the mission statement of the club? How involved are you in the event planning? How much time are you willing to invest in these people?

"I have a desire to get as many students as possible involved. So if you have a volunteering instinct inside of you then definitely come talk to me. We will get you out there. There are so many people that say: 'I really want to work in a soup kitchen, but I don't know how.' That's where I see myself, as someone people can talk to, and possibly find direction."

When Chowdhury is not running two clubs and volunteering for Teach for America, she is diving into pop culture, a fascination of hers.

"I'm a pop-culture junkie," she says. "I'm one of those people that know everything about 'that artist' or 'that TV show,' and the entire production behind it: How did the production get from point A to point B? I'm that person and I'm good to have on trivia teams."

After receiving her bachelor's degree, Chowdhury wants to continue volunteering, but most of all she wants to pursue her dreams in the study of history. She plans to pursue a doctorate in history, specializing in popular culture between the Great Depression and the World War II era.

"Last year at my Phi Alpha Theta Career Night, one of my professors mentioned that 'No matter how hard you try to run from your passion of history, you can't escape it.' I never thought I would say this on the verge of graduation, but he's absolutely right," she says. "My dreams come first."

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Last Updated: 3/13/13