The very first class of Say Yes Buffalo students to achieve four completed years of college is ready to graduate. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley met with one of the Say Yes scholars who will be graduating from Medaille College this month.
“I feel very thankful because without Say Yes I wouldn’t have actually went to college,” said Manar Al Sbaikhawi, Medaille College senior.
Al Sbaikhawi came from Iraq to Buffalo ten years ago with her family. She is 2013 graduate of Lafayette high school and was eligible for the Say Yes scholarship.
Al Sbaikhawi majored in Biology with a minor in Pre-med at Medaille the last four years. She tells us, as a Say Yes scholar, it has been positive with many people at the college supporting and guiding her.
“I have Dr. Clabeaux, who is my biology teacher currently and I have my counselor at TRiO, Matt Ullery and they’ve been the most supportive people in my life, of course, in addition to my dad,” Al Sbaikhawi explained.
TRiO is a student support program at Medaille. WBFO asked Al Sbaikhawi what her family is saying about her accomplishments.
“They’re very proud of me. My dad has been supportive since the very beginning my high school career and my college career and he goes out of his way sometimes just to help me out,” responded Al Sbaikhawi.
Al Sbaikhawi will continue in the master's program at Medaille in Mental Health studies had hopes to attend medical school to become a pediatrician. But for that leg of her education it will require her to pay her own tuition.
“We’re going to have to a sense of loans – for now and then as I go, I pay it off, I mean I will apply for FASFA, but there won’t be any grants and stuff like that,” Al Sbaikhawi described.
Al Sbaikhawi could not speak English when she arrived here a decade ago, but now she’s ambitious. She's a certified nurse's aide and works at Elderwood in Lancaster, tutors at Medaille and volunteers at Sister's and Buffalo General Hospitals. She’s now becoming a member of this "inaugural" group of Say Yes students to complete their four years of college education.
“So it’s going to be a great day and we’re proud of the kids – you know they’re smart, they’re beautiful – they’re going to contribute to our communities and it is certainly a point and time to celebrate that,” declared David Rust, Executive Director, Say Yes Buffalo.
Rust tells WBFO News he expects expect a few hundred students to receive their four-year degrees this month.
“Say Yes is a unique asset that separates Buffalo from almost any other community across the country – that is a scholarship backed by comprehensive supports and all of our leaders in our community working together in a collective impact model,” Rust remarked.
Say Yes emerged five years ago with the promise of a free-college education to all Buffalo Public and city charter school students. The organization has already celebrated 119-students who have completed two-year degrees or received trade certificates.
Final four-year graduation numbers won't be released until a year from now, however, Rust is confident those numbers will be healthy, although he admits, for some students, it might take five or six years to graduate, but the support will be there for their efforts as long as they stay on track.
“Which is maintaining full-time status and a 2.0. We want to support our young people so they can contribute to our economy in a meaningful fashion,” Rust stated.
In the last few weeks there has been major some confusion about the state's new Excelsior Scholarships and how it would affect students applying at Say Yes. Rust tells WBFO News it hasn't been easy getting straight answers from the state, but each day, it gets a little clearer.
“We’re still trying to iron out the details, but from what our understanding is today – is that Excelsior would come after Say Yes, so in actuality that means business as usual for Say Yes – that we will be here providing our degrees to public and private colleges – about 200 schools in total – for all graduates of the public and charter schools, assuming they have eligibility. In regards to Excelsior specifically – one of the data points I saw that came out of the SUNY Board of Trustees meeting is about five- percent, that are currently in SUNY/CUNY programs, would be eligible for Excelsior, obviously that is a miniscule number and I think it backs up the support for us as to why Say Yes is really critical in this community – that’s why we continue to operate as business as usual model,” Rust said.
Say Yes has offered an opportunity to lift up these students without the worry of major debt, like Manar Al Sbaikhawi who teared up as she thought about walking across the stage on May 19th at Kleinhan's Music Hall for her graduation day.
“I would say I would feel honored and very grateful, and I do have a lot to get done before that night, but I will get it done, just to get to that night,” Al Sbaikhawi replied.