When she was 15-years-old, Leen Basharat received devastating news. Her father was suffering from serious health issues, and his mounting medical bills were ruining the family’s finances.
“My dad was suffering from several health complications, such as bleeding in his brain, that were far too expensive for us to pay,” says Basharat. “Most of our family’s income went toward his medical expenses.”
Basharat worked two jobs, in addition to attending high school, to help keep her family afloat.
“Because of our financial bind, my parents also told me that if I wanted to go to college, I needed to find a way to pay for it myself,” she recalls.
Basharat had always planned to go to college – her long term ambition is to become the first Arab-American on the Supreme Court, which she knew meant many years of higher education. She studied hard, and graduated from Morton Ranch High School in Katy, Tx in the top ten percent of her class.
“While working to help pay for our household essentials, I also managed to save some money to put towards my college education, but as I approached graduation I knew I didn’t have enough,” she says.
Her high school counselor helped Basharat apply for a number of scholarships, including one from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“In March of my senior year I found out I had enough scholarship money to attend college, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a very big reason why. Growing up in a low-income family, I saw going to college as a luxury. Because of the men and women that dedicated their time and money to the Rodeo, going to college became a reality for me,” says Basharat.
Her parents wanted Basharat to stay close to home, and Basharat wanted an environment that would allow her to explore all of her interests. She enrolled at UH and decided to major in Liberal Studies – CLASS’s “triple minor” program. Today, she is a sophomore studying journalism, ethics & law, and values & policy.
“I realized very early on that Leen was a socially conscious individual. She always spoke up and participated in class and offered engaging insights into the political and social topics of the day. It's a trait that we see in a select number of students, but as her professor I was always impressed by her dedication to being connected and informed about the things that matter the most for society as a whole,” says Dr. Cyrus Contractor, instructional assistant professor of political science.
“I was recently accepted to UH’s Honors College where I will be a part of a separate group of academically driven students as I obtain my undergraduate degree,” Basharat says. “Immediately after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, as long as funding goes as planned, I will enter law school.”
Since arriving on campus, Basharat has immersed herself in her college experience. Her freshman year she was the Assistant News Editor for the University’s paper, The Cougar. She received the Staff Member of the Year award for her work with the publication.
“This year I resigned that post in order to become a College of Liberal Arts and Social Science senator for the Student Government Association at UH. There, I am one of 35 senators who voice the concerns of more than 42,000 students and represent them in various University affairs,” says Basharat.
In addition, she is a Communications Intern for the Harris County District Clerk’s Office where she works alongside administrators and the County Clerk to display the work he is or will be doing for the courts and his constituents.
She is also considering pursuing a research project based on her own personal experience.
“I grew up in a family where if I wanted to go to college I had to find the money to go. Thankfully, my school district devotes a lot of energy to show students scholarship opportunities. Unfortunately, not all districts offer this option and I would examine the opportunities offered to students in the Third Ward area of Houston,” says Basharat.
“In addition, at my high school STEM careers were heavily focused while anything else, like law, were not even mentioned as an option. I know the environment in Houston I.S.D. can have its disadvantages when showing students they have an opportunity to further their education and have a career, so I want to examine the opportunities offered in the Houston area, specifically the impoverished areas surrounding Rice University and UH.”
As Basharat continues her education, she knows she has a long way to go before reaching her goal of becoming a Supreme Court justice.
“Leen is one of the best students I have worked with at the Center for Student Media, and I admire her greatly. She started at The Cougar the summer before her first fall semester, even before taking her first class as a freshman,” says Ana Goni-Lessan, activities coordinator for the Center for Student Media. “Leen is a bright and hard-working student. When she becomes a judge, which is her goal, I am 100 percent certain she will make UH, our community and our country proud.”
“I still have a long, winding road ahead of me. I know I will have to work hard in order to first become a lawyer, and then continue working my way up,” Basharat says. “Right now, I am embracing any and all opportunities.”
- Monica Byars