The legal field first piqued Nousheen “Bri” Ehsan’s curiosity when she was in high school. But it was her observations of a north St. Louis County community in the fall of 2014 that turned that early interest into a solid career plan.
The University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate, who earned her bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice earlier this month, was working on her associate degree at St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley at the time. After Michael Brown’s death in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, she watched local residents – and also met some lawyers – doing “amazing things.”
Ehsan also recalls some of her own peers as well as college employees getting involved during the days when the Flo Valley campus was closed. They made the most of the time spent out of class by painting positive messages on boarded-up windows, cleaning up streets and interacting with people in Ferguson.
“That’s how I realized I wanted to do public service,” Ehsan says, “because I saw the unity. And you would go home and watch TV, and the news media were talking about how, ‘Oh, Ferguson is all this chaos and stuff,’ but then you come out into the community and just see all of these people banding together, charging ahead. That experience definitely impacted me.”
Soon afterward, Ehsan applied to UMSL, transferring to the university with an ambitious goal of finishing her four-year degree – and earning a Pierre Laclede Honors College certificate – in three semesters flat. This fall, she’ll begin her studies at Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale, where she’s accepted a full-tuition scholarship.
“She impressed me immediately, and even though Bri has not been with us very long, she has made a big impression on us,” says Daniel Gerth, interim dean of the honors college at UMSL and Ehsan’s academic adviser. “And she pulled off her plan. The honors college does not even offer a three-semester plan … She earned the certificate in record time.”
Ehsan was born in Bangladesh and moved to the U.S. at the age of 13. She decided to transfer to UMSL a year and a half ago because of its highly acclaimed criminology and criminal justice program, which she was confident would provide strong preparation for law school. In the meantime, she’s developed a particular passion for immigration law, something she hopes to practice in St. Louis eventually.
“For me, the immigration process was very smooth – my grandparents sponsored us, we settled down and life has been good,” she says. “But lately, with the Syrian refugees and everything that’s been going in the political world, that has had an impact on me. You hear a lot of hateful things people are saying, like, ‘Oh, send them all back,’ and Donald Trump is all about building this wall. I look at my own life, and I realize that there are so many people like me who are trying to help their communities where they live, and we should be able to give a chance to those people. Just because they came from a different country or just because somebody else is threatened by them doesn’t mean that they should have to suffer.”
On top of balancing an average of about 20 credit hours per semester at UMSL, Ehsan has become a familiar voice on WGNU 920AM’s “Community Conversations” show. Doubling as her independent study project, her role at the station evolved from an internship to something more. Eventually she became an on-air personality and occasional fill-in producer for the show.
“It’s every Sunday, from 1:30 to 3 p.m., and we talk about various issues, including current events, gender issues, racial issues, religious issues, immigration, politics – anything that affects our community directly,” she says. “We also have people call in and give their opinions, and we sometimes have heated debates between people. We talk about community-oriented policing a lot, and since I’m a criminal justice major, that’s been kind of my responsibility there.”
Ehsan’s time at UMSL has been relatively short, given her accelerated, three-semester approach. It’s also been a critical building block toward a future she’s passionate about. From what she describes as the campus’s tightknit, community-service-oriented atmosphere to the deep academic experience, particularly in the honors college, her days at UMSL have been full ones. And she’s full of gratitude.
“The honors college faculty worked every single day with me for so long – people like Dan [Gerth] and Jennifer Richardson put in a lot of time just helping me prepare for my next steps,” Ehsan says. “I cannot thank them enough. I would not have gotten my scholarship without the help of the honors college.”