Abu Chowdhury, Liberal Studies

photo by Sandi Yanisko

photo by Sandi Yanisko

If you’re a member of the Montgomery County Community College family, you probably know Abu Chowdhury. If nothing else, you’ve definitely seen him around campus. Maybe you’ve walked past each other as Chowdhury was carrying out his many duties as president of the Central Campus Student Government Association.

Perhaps you’ve made eye contact while Chowdhury was rallying to create a safe space program, or while he was raising funds for World Vision. You’d be hard pressed to find a written record of Chowdhury’s volunteer hours as a MCCC student, but judging by the amount of students and faculty who recognize and appreciate Chowdhury, his service and academic drive have certainly not gone unnoticed.

Arriving in the United States from his native Bangladesh in 2009, the then 20-year-old Chowdhury moved in with an uncle who immediately encouraged him to enroll at MCCC. Having studied business in Bangladesh, Chowdhury chose to study computer science for two semesters before switching majors and returning to his business roots. For Chowdhury, a career was the number one concern.

“My parents went back to Bangladesh and they are probably hoping someday I will get a good job and they will come over. For every immigrant family the job is very important, you want to be established as soon as possible,” Chowdhury said. “A job was the main thing when I started.”

And yet as time progressed and Chowdhury became more immersed in the corporate business world, he discovered that he felt called to do a different kind of work, one that better suited his altruistic nature and interest in human rights.

“I was watching a lot of documentaries about how corporations are profit motivated and all about the money, and I thought I’m not going to work for them. I will go for something that I can do for the community. I cannot be an engineer, but I’m very good with people. I like to talk and communicate with people. So I decided to try liberal studies.”

At the same time that Chowdhury was navigating a new academic path, he was quickly flourishing into a socially involved student, a task which had seemed daunting on his arrival.

“At the beginning I was very shy,” Chowdhury shared. “I wouldn’t talk to anybody because I thought that people would laugh at me because my English was not good and my pronunciation was not clear. I knew how to write English, but I didn’t have a chance to speak English in Bangladesh.”

It was during an ESL tutoring session with faculty member Bill Simons that Chowdhury received some much needed advice.

“I said that I wasn’t comfortable, how can I enhance my speaking skills? And Bill said you are a cucumber right now and you’re trying to be a pickle. So in order to be a pickle you have to soak yourself in vinegar. He meant that I have to be assimilated with this culture. So I thought about it and decided if people laugh, they could laugh and I don’t care, I’ll join some clubs.  I joined international club, and then ESL club…and then everything else.”

It’s not an exaggeration. Chowdhury participated in every club that would take him, soaking himself in all kinds of vinegar. Chowdhury joined the African American Club, he became part of the Minority Male Mentoring Program, and he made a conscious decision to be involved with the Gay-Straight Alliance. Just to name a few.

“I have been a member of pretty much every single club,” Chowdhury insisted. “I didn’t have a car so my uncle would drop me off between 7-7:30 am, and then pick me up when he came back from the office. I had maybe one or two classes in a day so I had the opportunity to socialize with people, I had that time.”

It was through his campus involvement and generous nature that Chowdhury more recently found himself running for the Student Government Association, after a particularly eye opening fundraiser. Chowdhury joined volunteer efforts to raise funds through World Vision’s 30 hour famine.  In five days, Chowdhury raised close to $1,100.

“I saw that if you donate $30, it can save a child for one month, and I know that because I am from a third world country and I have seen poverty with my own eyes and it was very personal to me. I said that I am going to do whatever I can. I went to every single teacher, I went to family and friends, asking everyone I knew and people believed me and were trusting me.”

Chowdhury became SGA president in a landslide vote. It was a seamless transition for such a natural born community leader, who has balanced his commitments this past year while also being recommended and chosen for the Montgomery County Advisory Committee to the PA Human Relations commission, as well representing students at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

But for Chowdhury, who is every bit the motivated student and burgeoning human rights activist, it wasn’t enough to simply participate in clubs and settle into a comfortable routine. Becoming integrated into the MCCC and American culture meant reprioritizing and discovering ways to help strengthen his new community, which is how Chowdhury found himself organizing a school wide initiative to create a safe space program. With more than sixty faculty members showing interest, the program is still in the planning stage, with the creation continuing next year. The support system is set to be one of Chowdhury’s many legacies moving forward.

“I have done a lot of things,” Chowdhury mentioned, “but that probably the most important thing that I am happily a part of.”

Chowdhury’s hard work and sincere kindness have helped to build a network of support for the student at MCCC, which he is thankful for.

“I think as long as you are a good person, don’t try to harm anybody, and you are friendly to people….people will like you, they will love you. All these opportunities that came to me…people said ‘hey Abu, I think you’re eligible for this, you would be good at this, and you should try it.’”

One of those opportunities was a recommendation for the Bucknell University scholarship program. Chowdhury participated in a six week summer program this past year, pushing himself within a new academic atmosphere. The emotional attachment was forged quickly, and Chowdhury felt a comfortable fit.

“At Bucknell they try to see who you are,” Chowdhury said. “They have lots and lots of good students so they don’t just want a good student. You have to be a good citizen of the school.”

The Bucknell community clearly recognized that citizen in Chowdhury, as he was accepted to Bucknell for the upcoming fall. Taking his joint degrees in Liberal Arts and Business, Chowdhury wants to study economics at Bucknell, perhaps in combination with philosophy, political science, sociology, or international relations.  He is, after all, a liberal arts student at heart.  One thing he knows for sure is that he’ll continue to work his hardest.

“I want to utilize my years at Bucknell,” Chowdhury shared. “I want to read as many books as I can. I want to get connected with my professors.”

Whether at MCCC or Bucknell, in America or Bangladesh, not only can Chowdhury look forward to a bright future, we should all look forward to having such a dedicated citizen of the world working to benefit the wider community. It’s been a transformative few years for Chowdhury, and he is ready to continue forward, learning and giving back.

“It was a great journey,” Chowdhury reflected. “MCCC has given me a lot of things, taught me a lot, loved me, cared for me. Every single person, everyone…I believe that every day with education you are changing. I am still Abu, my name is still Abu, but I am not the same person I was three years ago. I move, I always keep moving and going forward. I don’t believe in being rich, and I don’t dream of money or a luxurious car. I dream of change. And then I will probably say I am successful.”

~ by Kelly Cox

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