First Generation College Graduates

First generation college graduates from NYU Abu Dhabi Class of 2020 speak about their journey here.

The year 2020 has been anything but ordinary. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began early in the year changed everyone’s way of life. For NYU Abu Dhabi Class of 2020 students, it meant relying a lot on remote online learning, and attending a virtual Commencement to celebrate their achievements. For some students, this Commencement — virtual or not — will also be a celebration of being a first generation college graduate. 

First generation college graduates are the first in their immediate family to gain a college degree. Here are their stories. 

Swapping Medical School for NYU Abu Dhabi

Abdur Arshad, Class of 2020.

Throughout high school, Abdur Arshad always dreamt of getting into Pakistan’s prestigious medical school. When he succeeded in getting admitted, he realized that medicine was not what he was passionate about. He started skipping classes and eventually his parents intervened with this piece of advice: Pursue what you are passionate about, as long as you don’t waste your life away.

While Arshad started applying for colleges abroad, he felt the weight of the decision as he was determined not to make another wrong move with his education. With an admission to a liberal arts college like NYU Abu Dhabi, Arshad was able to explore different majors.

I feel that the mission of this University is: We’ve got you covered, come and find yourself through us.

Abdur Arshad, Class of 2020

By sophomore year, Arshad had decided to pursue a double major in Mathematics and Economics. 

Arshad’s parents always wanted their children to focus on their education instead of the family business. While it was especially hard in the beginning for Arshad’s parents to accept that he was pulling out of a top medical school program, they rallied behind him. “I was always given choices and opportunities to my education,” Arshad added. 

Until now, Arshad continues to have family and friends who think he was mad to leave medical school, but he maintains he is very happy with the decision. “NYU Abu Dhabi is a special place that gives me the independence and autonomy to shape my own personality, and path,” Arshad said. This first generation college graduate already has his next steps in place — a Masters in Finance in McGill University in Canada.

Building a Dream

Roshan Poudel, Class of 2020.

Coming from a small village in Nepal, Roshan Poudel’s parents had always dreamt of building a house of their own in Kathmandu city. 

When the family eventually started building their home, the actual process got Poudel curious about structural engineering. Right around the same time, a devastating earthquake shook Nepal to its ground and pushed Poudel further into the subject. 

At NYUAD, Poudel was able to further his passion through research work such as investigating advanced material like mortar cement that can absorb carbon dioxide. With hard work and determination, Poudel believes every student is empowered to go further.

As the first child in the family to graduate college, the civil engineering major is grateful to be a role model for his younger sister.

Without NYU Abu Dhabi, my future would be very different.

Roshan Poudel, Class of 2020

Poudel is applying for graduate school with the intention to study structural and earthquake engineering.


“I really wanted to be independent.”

Katerina Hansraj, Class of 2020.

Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, Katerina Hansraj had never left her country before college. She was initially going to apply for NYU New York when her school counsellor encouraged her to give NYU Abu Dhabi a try.  

During Candidate Weekend, Hansraj tried out sample classes with various professors and toured the campus. She was sold. The mission behind NYUAD was something Hansraj could align herself with. Besides, Hansraj had always wanted to be independent and get out of her comfort zone. “You’ll never know what you’re going learn about yourself until you throw yourself in the deep end,” Hansraj explained.

Hansraj’s grandmother only had primary school education while her parents only had secondary school education. To be the first in the family to graduate from college, Hansraj felt really lucky and thankful. “My parents worked really hard to get me to this point. Both of their hard work, and mine, finally paid off,” Hansraj added.

There’s such an advantage to being in a place where everyone is from everywhere. It’s such a cliche thing to say about NYU Abu Dhabi but the experiences here are truly priceless.

Katerina Hansraj, Class of 2020