Interdisciplinary studies grad looks toward med school, volunteers with local immigrants

by | Dec 18, 2016

Ageena Hass says the greatest joy of returning to school as an older adult is simple – it's the privilege of getting to sit still and learn.
Ageena Hass, UMSL

Ageena Hass says that the greatest joy of returning to school as an older adult is simple – it’s the privilege of getting to sit still and learn. “I mean, yes, I want to go to med school. Yes, I want the degree, but it’s really all about me getting to learn something new.” (Photo by August Jennewein)

Ageena Hass came to the University of Missouri–St. Louis to finish what she started when she was 19 years old.

On Dec. 17, she did just that.

The interdisciplinary studies major performed as a student marshal at Saturday’s fall commencement ceremonies and officially accepted a degree that has been more than 20 years in the making.

The pre-med track she remained steadfastly dedicated to was the continuation of a dream she’s had for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve been drawn to medicine my whole life,” Hass explained. “Even as a little kid, I can remember being in the kitchen mixing up my mother’s spices, saying, ‘Mom, look, I’m going to make the cure for cancer.’”

While that admirable goal remains, Hass has found other ways to both do good in the world, and further the rudimentary medical knowledge that she hopes to expand upon in the near future by next going to medical school.

As a volunteer at an unassuming building on Grand Avenue – the home of an organization called Christian Friends of New Americans – Hass provides basic medical screenings to the St. Louis immigrant population.

Bhutan, Sudan, Iraq. The individuals Hass helps come from everywhere.

“The last time we had a screening, we had two families in from Syria. We had a great time. The kids were playing everywhere. It was beautiful and amazing.”

The experience is a twist of fate that’s rather serendipitous for the brand-new UMSL alumna, who says she once had visions of being a medical missionary.

“Instead of getting to go to all of these different countries that I wanted to go to,” says Hass, “they all come to this one place, and I can serve and help them there. It’s pretty incredible.”

Hass offers a friendly ear and warm welcome while she performs blood sugar checks and talks diet and exercise. She’s part of an entire team of volunteers who help connect individuals and families to more extensive medical services ­– services she says are often needed simply because of the sheer amount of stress that’s the result of starting over in a brand new place.

In a small way, Hass can relate to the fish-out-of-water phenomenon they face.

While returning to school well into adulthood certainly isn’t exactly the same as being immersed in a new culture or learning a foreign language from scratch, it was still pretty scary for Hass, who says she initially called local universities to explain her situation and seek guidance.

Some of the schools she spoke to met her hesitation with their own. They suggested she try community college first.

But not UMSL.

“I said, ‘Listen, it’s been 20 years since I last took a test,’” Hass explains. “They said, ‘Put in your application. Let’s see what you can do.’”

Hass is adamant that while that phone call admittedly wasn’t the first she made, it was the best one. The welcoming attitude, she says – from an environment that was ready to let her succeed – has ­made all the difference.

Another thing that has made all the difference?

The steadfast support of her 13-year-old son, as well as her endlessly encouraging husband.

“He has worked three jobs for nearly three years so that I could focus full time on this,” Hass says. “I keep telling him that it’s ridiculous that I’m the one who gets to walk. It should be him and John, my son. They have worked so hard for this. They should put on the cap and gown.”

The UMSL Experience


Jami Hirsch

Jami Hirsch