Invest In Me

Speaking out

Scholarships support student’s passion for advocacy through storytelling

Growing up, Maryum Elnasseh struggled to embrace her identity as a Muslim woman. She remembers feeling isolated as a person of color in a predominantly white school, but she felt less alone once she arrived at Virginia Commonwealth University for her freshman year, she says.

“I remember being younger and trying to hide the fact that I was Muslim because I was embarrassed by it. It was really cool to come to VCU and see people that looked like me,” says Elnasseh, now in her final year as a double major in political science and mass communications in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. “I just feel very accepted here and know that I don’t have to worry about my identity holding me back.”

Now that Elnasseh has found her voice, she’s ready to use it to advocate for others. She chose her majors to prepare for a career that allows her to “raise awareness for important causes around the world and give a voice to the voiceless,” she says.

“I think ideas and words have the power to change the world,” she says. “I love reporting about social justice issues that I think are important to talk about and finding a way to humanize those issues through storytelling.”

Elnasseh’s time at VCU has been enhanced by several scholarships, she says, and the awards have enabled her to focus on academic and extracurricular opportunities that fuel her passion. In 2018, she studied under established international journalists as part of a study-abroad program in the Czech Republic with help from an award from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund.

“It was really amazing,” she says, “and it was only possible for me because of the scholarship, which funded everything.”

When she graduates, Elnasseh wants to work as an investigative journalist, and eventually hopes to pursue a degree in human rights law. She draws a connection between the scholarship support she received as a student and her mission as an advocate.

“I want to write stories to make things better for people that I’ve never met,” she explains. “I care about our shared humanity even if I haven’t met them. It’s the same kind of feeling that scholarship donors have; they donate not knowing who will receive that scholarship, but they know it’s going to someone who needs it. I feel really special knowing that there are strangers out there who believe in me and are spending their own money to help support my dreams.”