More than 75 students from the College of Arts and Sciences will earn their degrees in December.
Meet a a few of our inspirational students.
Princeton Nelson: Overcoming Tragedy And Embracing Computer Science
When Princeton Nelson started at Georgia State he was sleeping in his car, working as an Uber driver when he wasn’t in class or studying. He didn’t complain because that’s not how he’s built.
“I’m a positive person,” he said. “My grandmother raised me to always look at things from a positive perspective,” Nelson said. “And I really do feel like every day is a new day because I have always made something out of nothing.”
Nelson was fascinated by computers from a young age and spent countless hours in the basement of his grandmother’s house in Riverdale, playing video games and eventually teaching himself how to create his own computer game at age 10.
“I never saw anyone who was into computers where I grew up,” Nelson said. “I had to do it myself.”
“All around me, my friends, they were selling drugs. They were in gangs. My family wasn’t poor, but we were on the edge,” he said.
Nelson’s father went to prison for drug-related crime. His mother was murdered.
“But my older brother told me every day, ‘You go to school.’ And I did,” he said. “It’s hard to believe all the things I went through. It feels unreal sometimes.”
Focusing on academics was a struggle and Nelson said by the time he reached high school, he was close to not finishing. “I had a lot of anger and I felt like I was by myself. I was really doing some bad things,” he said. “I still graduated high school, but to be honest, it wasn’t the best G.P.A.”
After studying for a while to be a barber, Nelson said he gravitated back to his childhood love of computers. He enrolled at Atlanta Metropolitan College to earn an associate’s degree in computer science and then came to Georgia State to work toward a B.S. in computer science. Though it was a struggle in his early days on campus, Nelson said he found a supportive community of students and a wealth of opportunities.
“When I got here, I actually learned how to code,” he said. “I got into new algorithms. I went into a deep data class. I realized I have a talent for this. I realized, this is who I am.”
Nelson started building websites for small companies and earned enough money to get an apartment. Then he pulled in friends he’d met at HackGSU and started his own company called Cloud Wolf.
One project he dreams of working on is an app to connect people living on the streets with resources that can help them.
“I think I can make a difference,” he said. “I know how hard it can be.”
Tanya Panwalla: Motivated to Become a Doctor So She Can Help Others
By the time she was 16 years old, Tanya Panwala knew she wanted to be a doctor. She wasn’t certain what her specialty would be, but she knew she wanted to be a doctor who fought back against the kind of systemic inequities that she witnessed during childhood trips to see family in Pakistan.
“When we would visit where my parents grew up, I’d usually get sick from food poisoning and end up having to go to a local hospital or clinic, she said. “I saw big differences in the quality of care and the resources that were available in Pakistan,” she said. “It was a lot different than what it was like back home in the U.S.”
Panwala said she noticed multiple patients squeezed into a single hospital room, long waits to be seen by a doctor, unclean drinking water, inadequate medical supplies and priority for care given to people with social status or financial wealth.
“This didn’t sit right with me,” she said. “It made me more aware of the health consequences that happen due to sociocultural factors and it motivated me to try to integrate the lessons and experiences from my identity as a Pakistani Muslim female into the opportunities that I have pursued in medicine and in my education.”
At Georgia State, Panwala has pursued an undergraduate degree in neuroscience with a pre-med concentration. She quickly found ways to merge her love of research with her passion for addressing health disparities. Panwala worked with professor Tricia King as a developmental neuropsychology researcher in a study of brain tumors. She also worked as an intern at Grady Memorial Hospital’s Trauma Project, volunteered at Grady‘s Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center and, when she had time, worked as an English and math tutor with refugee children in Clarkston.
“I learned to find confidence in my voice and my interests,” she said. “Even in the U.S. there are inequalities in terms of identity and sociodemographic factors that ultimately determine how you are treated both in medicine and society in general,” she said. “That really drove how I saw the world and how I wanted to make my own impact on things.”
Panwala has been accepted to several medical schools. She said she has no doubt that she is ready for whatever comes next, perhaps a career in emergency medicine.
I know that I have developed the right critical thinking and communication skills that I need
to integrate research into my future medical education to hopefully better serve my future patients.”
Terri Arjuna Carroll: From Gospel Singing Success, Back To The Classroom
Terri Arjuna Carroll knew she had to finish what she’d started.
It had been 35 years since she had dropped out of college and in that time, she had moved on to assume many roles in her life — as a mother, an actress, an internet radio show host and as an accomplished R&B, jazz and gospel singer/songwriter.
Still, she felt it was important to go back to college to earn a degree — to build a better life for her family and to simply prove to herself, and everyone else, that she could do it.
“I’ve had my share of success in life,” Carroll said. “I spent some time in the ‘90s on top of the R&B charts. I’ve been nominated twice for a Stellar Award, which is the equivalent of a Grammy for gospel singers,” she said. “But I wanted to have something a little more … I came back to school to learn as much as I possibly could, to better myself.”
Carroll chose to study psychology because she has a natural curiosity about the human condition. “I wanted to dig deeper into learning why people do the things they do,” she said. “I have always been very interested in the study of human behavior, just understanding how people behave. My abnormal psychology classes were especially useful. That explained a lot of psychological disorders to me … things we think are character flaws are actually mental health issues.”
Returning to school as an adult student was a bit of a daunting challenge, she said, but one that she was ready to face. “I really didn’t know how it would be or how I would fit in. I am the age of the parents of some of my classmates,” she said. “I actually became a positive influence on some of these younger people. I made friends — some of them lasting friendships — that I value and hope I will know for the rest of my life. It was so joyful to have that.”
As she thinks about stepping across the stage and hearing her name called out as a graduate of the class of 2018, Carroll said the emotions rise up and become almost too much. “I think I’m a little numb,” she said, laughing. “It’s a little unreal. I’m used to working toward it and now it’s finally here.”
Stories by Randy Trammell. Photos by Randy Trammell and courtesy of Terri Arjuna Carroll.