Lake Park High School graduate selected for women's leadership scholarship

  • Photo courtesy of Katelyn CesarottiPoonam Rahman

    Photo courtesy of Katelyn CesarottiPoonam Rahman

 
 
Updated 5/20/2021 6:35 PM

A Lake Park High School graduate is one of eight students at Roosevelt University to take part in a scholarship program for women poised to become leaders in their professions.

Poonam Rahman, a 21-year-old senior psychology student and nonprofit organizer, has been selected as a Deutsch Herczeg Scholar. She will receive a $5,000 scholarship and a pathway to a professional internship. Rahman was born and raised in Roselle to parents from Dhaka, Bangladesh. She graduated from Lake Park High School in 2018 and lives in Roselle.

 

The scholarship program matches participants with a member of the Women's Leadership Council for one-on-one mentorship. The council hosts programs, mentors members and promotes initiatives that help close the gender gap. "As a woman of color, I feel that it is important for young girls to have role models that look like them and come from a similar background," Rahman said. "I hope to further my work in female-centered leadership and mentorship with like-minded women."

The scholarship is named after Joan Deutsch Herczeg and was launched with funding from her daughter, Larissa Herczeg, a Roosevelt trustee and managing partner of Oak Street Real Estate Capital.

Rahman's passion in advocating for women and communities of color has been constant throughout her life. At the College of DuPage, she started a women's empowerment club called Girl Up, a student organization spotlighting issues girls and young women face in some developing countries. She transferred to Roosevelt from the College of DuPage to major in psychology with a concentration in neuroscience and minoring in general business, and she expects to graduate next May.

Rahman, who is the vice president of the Roosevelt's Muslim Students Association, has already begun planning ambitious ways to advocate for others. At the College of DuPage, she launched two 501(c) (3) nonprofits called Virtue Mental and Shattering Bias In S.T.E.A.M., the latter of which is the title of a book she intends to release in September.

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Virtue Mental is a nonprofit aimed at providing free mental health resources in underprivileged communities, particularly recent American immigrants. It has an executive board of six members, with a staff of 100.

Rahman hopes to become a physician and a lawyer. Regarding the drastically different education requirements, she says the pandemic worsened problems women of color were already dealing with, such as gender violence, mental health and work instability. She believes working in multiple fields will make it possible to help more and make changes.

"I think of 15-year-old me, going through these issues," Rahman said. "Growing up there were only two South Asian students in my middle school, with no one to advocate for me. I know there are people in worse situations than I was and I want to do my part."

Rahman says she's an introvert and keeps her spirits high by staying close to her family and embracing her heritage. She speaks fluent Bengali, listens to Bengali music and enjoys foods like ilish, a dish made of fried fish and rice.

"A lot of times, immigrant families are encouraged to assimilate and blend in but I never believed in that," Rahman said. "It's important to follow those traditions. I don't think I should ever have to hide it."

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