Opportunity Scholars Program provides honors freshmen a path to achieving their goals

Kennady Carter, Afina Fayez, Heela Momand and Zahria Patrick

The 2020 Opportunity Scholars (from left) Kennady Carter, Afina Fayez, Heela Momand and Zahria Patrick received all-inclusive four-year scholarships from the Pierre Laclede Honors College. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Heela Momand grew up in Afghanistan and recalls seeing women and children dying due to an insufficient number of medical professionals, so she understands firsthand the necessity of having easily accessible, quality health care.

When Momand and her family came to the U.S. four years ago to escape war and instability, she noticed a lack of female doctors from underrepresented populations.

“Everywhere I went, I never saw anyone who looked like me, who could understand and represent me and people like me in the medical field,” she said. “The passion that I must help people and inspire girls like me has brought me to where I am today.”

Momand is enrolled in her first year at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she’s majoring in biology with a minor in psychology. Her goal is to become a physician who helps ensure those in need of medical care can access it.

She’s a member of this year’s Pierre Laclede Honors College Opportunity Scholars Program, which provides an all-inclusive four-year scholarship and residential package. Three other freshmen – Kennady Carter, Afina Fayez and Zahria Patrick – were also selected to participate in the program.

The OSP supports top St. Louis-area high school students who are underrepresented in their chosen field or are the first in their family to enroll in college. In addition to the financial award, students receive individualized advising, mentoring and career opportunities.

Momand is grateful to be part of the OSP and have access to the education that comes with it.

“Winning this scholarship meant hope; it meant a new life and a new beginning for an immigrant girl like me,” she said. “It meant the world to a girl whose family was not privileged to help her with any financial means of paying for college. Words will not do justice as to how blessed and happy I feel for being a recipient of this scholarship.”

Momand, who speaks four languages, chose to attend UMSL after touring campus as part of a CNA class. She was impressed by how at home she felt and was drawn to UMSL’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Her parents urged her to pursue a college degree, and she recalled her father reminding her that she would be the first in her family to attend a university. He told her to follow her dreams and not let anyone stop her – advice Momand took to heart when planning her future career.

“I want to help educate women regarding their health and wellness,” she said. “It’s my passion to help families have better, affordable health care regardless of where they are from, how they look and their finances. I want to have my own clinic and welcome people of all types and make them feel better. Also, I want to travel to war-torn countries and do humanitarian work, using my medical knowledge to assist those in need.”

Like Momand, Carter is pursuing a career in the medical field. She’s enrolled in the College of Nursing with a goal of becoming a nurse practitioner specializing in postpartum delivery, which ties together her passion for helping people and her passion for working with children.

“What brought me to UMSL was the nursing program and winning the OSP scholarship,” she said. “I’d wanted to go out of state to get new scenery. I didn’t realize that being in college 10 minutes away would also give me new scenery. When I looked at the nursing program here and once I received the OSP, I knew for sure this is where I was coming.”

She embraced the opportunity to live on campus and enjoys the experience. Her favorite moments are spent hanging out with her roommates.

She also relishes being part of the Honors College, where the smaller setting allows close connections between students and faculty. Carter finds it valuable that her professors know her by name.

She’s thankful to have the opportunity to attend college, a goal she’s had since childhood.

“The scholarship is truly a blessing, and I’m forever grateful for it,” she said. “My goal was to get a full ride. I prayed about that. It means I have a chance to attend school without being in debt. I’m excited to see where I land because of this opportunity.”

Fayez graduated from Pattonville High School. Louis the Triton and Honors College leaders showed up during class last semester to surprise her with the news that she’d been selected to be part of the OSP.

She’s pursuing a science career as a physics major, and the OSP scholarship will give her the opportunity to achieve her goals.

Patrick is also pursuing a science degree, although she’s majoring in chemistry. She traces her love of the subject back to her sophomore year of high school.

“On the first day, my chemistry teacher walked in with a brightly colored lab coat and made an explosion with a mini cannon,” Patrick said. “Throughout the semester, we did multiple mini lab experiments, and I loved each and every one of them. During my senior year, I fell in love with the entire process of doing more complicated experiments. I felt like a real scientist. I knew this was for me because the assignments didn’t feel like a chore.”

UMSL’s welcoming and friendly environment drew her to the university, and the Honors College has challenged her and kept her motivated.

Even though it’s only Patrick’s first semester, she’s already looking toward earning a PhD one day and is ready to embrace the challenges that come along.

“At the beginning of the year, I was really stressed and didn’t know how I was going to handle all of the work as the pace started to pick up,” she said. “But I just made sure to take my time and get as much help as I needed. I also remembered that I have people to support me when things get tough.”


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