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The Education of Thylo Ba

November 29, 2011

For as long as she can remember, Thylo Ba has wanted to be a doctor. Growing up in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, she was painfully aware that healthcare was woefully inadequate and doctors were in short supply.

“There was no such thing as preventive medicine, and there was often no one to help when you got sick,” recalls the second-year BMCC student. “It wasn’t unusual to see someone get sick one day and die the next.”

Ba decided she would work to change that, and with her family’s encouragement, emigrated to the U.S. three years ago. “I’d always studied science in school, and knew that the U.S. was where I could get the best medical education,” she says.

The benefits of Out in Two

As a BMCC freshman, Ba was accepted into the Out in Two Program, which helps high-potential students complete their studies and graduate in two consecutive years. The program provides scholarships, mentoring, priority registration, career guidance and other services. Students must take at least 15 credits a semester and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Ba’s is 3.84—but that’s getting ahead of the story.

“I hadn’t quite completed high school by the time I got to New York, so I enrolled in Springfield High School in Queens,” she says. It was a month into the school year and Ba knew she would have to work hard to graduate in eight months.

“The period of adjustment was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” she says. Like many educated Senegalese, Ba was fluent in three languages—French, Wolof, and her own local dialect—but she knew no English.

On her first day, she was told what room to go to. “But I didn’t know what ‘room’ meant,” she says. “Somehow I made it to my class, but had no idea what was going on and I had no way of communicating.”

 At night, she would translate each homework assignment from English into French, complete the work in French, and then laboriously translate it back into English. “It would take five hours or more,” she says. “I barely slept and lost weight.”

Still, she persevered. She took ESL courses. She worked like a demon. And in January, she received the highest grade in the school on her final exam on U.S. Government. She not only graduated the following June, she did it with a 98 average. She entered BMCC in September 2010.

Choosing BMCC

“In Senegal, you generally don’t get to decide where you go to college—you go where you’re sent,” Ba says. “So in New York, I was surprised to learn that I could choose from many different colleges.”

Two months before she graduated from Springfield High School, a guidance counselor asker her where she wanted to go to college. “Where I’m supposed to go,” Ba answered.

Ba’s parents had both attended BMCC; indeed, it was there that they’d first met. They urged her to consider BMCC seriously.

 “My mom was a student and my dad was a security guard,” she says. “When she came to have her picture ID made, they began talking and a year later they were married.” Her mother went on to earn a law degree and works today as a civil service lawyer. He father earned an MBA at Baruch and is employed by Amerijet.

It’s hardly surprising that Ba plans to continue her education at a senior college after graduating from BMCC next June. While she is an intensely hard worker, the Out in Two Program has made the going easier, providing her with scholarship money, career and academic advisement and other benefits.

“One of the best things about the program is our advisor, Mary Quezada, who is always available to help us and answer our questions,” she says.

Once Ba has completed her pre-med studies, she hopes to go on to medical school and fulfill a dream that has been with her since childhood.

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Emigrates to the U.S. with a courageous goal—and not a word of English
  • Graduates from her American high school with high honors and fluency in her new language
  • Selected for BMCC’s Out in Two Program, she maintains a 3.84 GPA

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