This summer wasn’t what he was expecting. Karim was excited about completing his junior year at Stanford and starting a summer internship. However, when the world shifted gears in response to the pandemic, this LEDA Cohort 12 Scholar found himself embracing a break in his “three-year marathon” of living on campus. “My internship was cancelled, but it turned out to be a welcome opportunity to dedicate more time to passion projects and my community.”
These projects included: volunteering weekly at a food bank that also provided COVID-19 testing; tutoring high school students and developing programming for the High School Support Initiative at the Haas Center for Public Service; and launching a fellowship for 19 new students at The Phoenix Scholars, an education equity organization founded and operated by Stanford undergraduates. As a Co-Executive Director, Karim helped to lead the fellowship program as it pioneered a partnership with Grammarly, created mental health resources for their students, and developed live-streams on health and wellness.
With summer behind him, Karim started his senior year as a bioengineering major not in a lab, but on the Internet. Once again, he found a silver lining in these unusual circumstances: even though he misses some of his hands-on courses, “I’m excited to learn more computational modeling skills” via distance learning. Outside of the online classroom, Karim notes that he doesn’t have the opportunity to knock on his friends’ doors, doing work and listening to R&B together, or gather a group to play five-on-five basketball or go on a hike together. “The pandemic has removed many of these outlets while maintaining the same workload from home,” he shared. Still, he’s happy that he can still “connect with my friends virtually since [social distancing] might save someone’s life.”
Through it all, LEDA has been an enduring source of support for Karim. “I Facetime my friends from LEDA to vent, laugh, strategize, and generally be there for one another,” he said. “Through LEDA, I’ve formed some of my longest lasting bonds, been connected with resources and opportunities I couldn’t have imagined before, and continuously received emotional and logistical support.” Like many of his fellow LEDA Scholars and Career Fellows, Karim identifies as a first-generation, low-income (FLI) student and is an advocate for ensuring that FLI students have access to fundamental necessities – a heightened concern during the pandemic, and one that LEDA shares, which contributed to the establishment of the LEDA COVID-19 Emergency Fund. “It sounds so simple, but FLI people need their basic needs secured in order to be successful students,” said Karim. He cited housing security, food security, and physical security in the current challenging environment as key areas that family, friends, schools, organizations, government agencies, and anyone else dedicated to empowering FLI students can help to bolster.
Characteristically, Karim maintains a positive outlook for the future. His immediate goals are “to get good grades and keep involved in the many clubs and jobs I had on campus. All of them are service opportunities that allow me to give back positively to a world that’s really hurting right now. I’m also hoping to have some fun still since it’s my senior year,” he said. With the end of his undergraduate experience on the horizon, Karim has a vision for the future. “I hope June 2021 is a post-pandemic world where I can celebrate graduating with a B.S. in Bioengineering with my family there with me; they’ve been waiting 21 years for that moment,” he shared. “I just need to stay consistent with my study-session Zoom calls with my crew to keep the motivation to make it through!”
Stay tuned for more in the upcoming weeks on how LEDA Scholars are adapting to the “new” back-to-school experience this year.
Published September 30, 2020