Leaving home to find home
Persistence, mentoring, and parental support pave the way for Mehreen’s success
Mehreen Mughal, a 2021 Queensborough graduate, believes everything happens for a good reason. Happenstance, failures, personal encounters -- they all enabled the young woman from Islamabad, Pakistan, who once thought she could never do anything alone, to follow her dream career path to medicine.
“I finished high school, but I had to wait for more than a year at home, unable to pursue higher education. Due to cultural pressures in Pakistan, my mother wanted me to go to New York to be with my father. It was hard to get here, but my mother made it happen somehow,” Mughal smiled. “She is my greatest support and always pushed me to focus on my passion and go toward science.”
Now in Flushing with her whole family, the Finch Scholarship recipient, undergraduate researcher, and CRSP Scholar is studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCATs) and preparing to attend Stony Brook University.
Things, however, did not appear so promising four years ago.
“I loved chemistry and biology. But when I came here, I did not know what major to choose. Pakistan has a completely different education system than America,” said the first-generation college student.
On the 7 train, with her mother, Mughal went to the CUNY Welcome Center at 42nd and 3rd, the university-wide admissions hub. Hopeful of gaining entry to a four-year college, she received advice instead to strengthen her academic readiness at a community college. Mughal, who became an award-winning student, selected Queensborough.
“It was October and I wanted to start classes as soon as possible. When I went to the campus in December, I found Queensborough felt so comfortable. Sometimes, when you go to a new place, you can feel awkward, but it was very welcoming and everyone helped me. Queensborough really touched my heart,” Mughal said.
Before enrolling, there were computer-based English and mathematics assessments to take.
“I wasn’t ready. I stepped into the exam hall and was surprised to see all the laptops,” she related. “In my country, we used pens and paper to take exams. Everything we learned was from books.”
It was Mughal’s first time using technology extensively.
“My eyes were hurting. They were tearing. My insides were telling me I was not doing well. When [the proctor] came out, she told me I had passed math, but my English reading and writing were off by one or two points. It was very close, but I failed. And I started crying. I was like, please, I want to go to college”.
Her confidence, she admitted, had broken.
“How could I be a doctor if I could not pass the entry test?”
With initiatives such as CUNY Start, a one-semester program that helps students address their developmental English and Math needs, and ASAP, a comprehensive accelerated program for associate-degree students, Mughal persevered.
“I made great friends with people who were going through the same thing. I found out I was not alone.”
Mughal entered Queensborough in the spring of 2018 as a Health Sciences student. She conducted biology research with Dr. Urszula Golebiewska on the genes of bacteriophages that could help in the development of new antibiotics, became a Supplemental Instructor in chemistry, and decided to sign up as a Peer Tutor, knowing that some classmates were more comfortable asking a fellow student for help. In her last semester, about to graduate, she abruptly switched programs.
“I realized I needed different qualifications than the Health Sciences degree could provide. I wanted to do biochemistry at a four-year college so I could apply for medical school. People think I changed my major because I was not good at it, but I loved chemistry more.”
Despite this change and some financial obstacles, Mughal earned 96 credits with a GPA of 3.9. She received three merit Scholarships for Continuing Students as well as a Barnes & Noble Scholarship. The Mathematics and Computer Sciences department also presented Mughal with Sondra Farber Award for outstanding performance and she was the beneficiary of the Pak Kuen Wong Endowment for excellence in research by the Chemistry Department.
In addition to those achievements, the former vice-president of the Science Research Alliance club considers herself “lucky”.
“I knew nothing about American education. Initially, I did not get into the college I wanted. Then I failed. Then I changed programs. Then I met Chemistry Professor Dr. Sharon Lall-Ramnarine. And I was amazed after that. I took most of Queensborough’s chemistry courses. I got A’s and I loved to go to the labs.”
Through her research on ionic liquids with mentor, Dr. Lall-Ramnarine, and the CUNY Research Scholars Program (CRSP), Mughal received a $4000 scholarship to conduct work related to the design of safer, non-flammable battery materials that are used to power cell phones and laptops.
“Dr. Lall-Ramnarine has been great. She was always there for great academic advice, especially during the pandemic when I was having issues with online learning. She surely has had a significant role in where I am today.”
Mughal currently works at Brookhaven National Laboratory, in a 10-week summer internship program for Community College Students (CCI), ssupported by the Department of Energy. She is also is a peer mentor of Mathematics and Chemistry at HSI-STEM Bridges Across Eastern Queens, a partnership between Queens College and Queensborough Community College.
She is proud of her accomplishments and that of her family. Her older sister, also a Queensborough graduate, plans to become a Physician’s Assistant. They studied at college together. Her younger sister just started at Queensborough. Her younger brother is at LaGuardia Community College and takes Computer Science, and her youngest brother is in high school.
“I was late to grab my opportunities, but my family has learned from my experience. Queensborough is a great college, not just for your education, but for your personal growth. When I arrived on campus, I did not feel like a person who just got here from the other side of the world. I felt like I found my home.”
Contact: Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle