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Honors Alumni Ysabelle Abraham

By Robert Cremins

Though she is a relatively recent graduate, Ysabelle Abraham (’16) is already committed to the Honors College philosophy of “student success that lasts a lifetime.” Talking to Ysabelle, you can hear not only traces of her native English accent, but also sure signs that an Honors education has been a big part of her personal formation. “I now look at the world through a different lens,” she says, “especially if you pair my experience in the Honors College with my experiences of living in three different countries. All this has made me more determined to bypass that regular first-read of life and go to a deeper understanding.”

Those three countries are the UK, Nigeria, and the United States. In the first twelve years of her life, Ysabelle moved around a lot, finally settling in the East London suburb of Hornchurch, Essex. Then to deepen her “cultural education,” she spent a year in her parents’ native country, Nigeria. That time had a profound impact on her. Despite having to endure a bout of malaria, she gained a firmer sense of her own identity, and new perspectives on privilege and exclusion.

After a spell back in England, Ysabelle and her family moved to US, more specifically Texas, where she attended high school in Katy. Injury prevented her from pursuing a promising track-and-field career, but she continued to thrive academically. In 2012, she chose UH and the Honors College, impressed by the small class sizes and the balance between courses in the humanities and her STEM-related major. 

The rite-of-passage known as Human Situation was transformational for Ysabelle, especially the antiquity semester. She names the Iliad as a favorite among the Great Books. “It reminded me that the world is very small,” she says, “and that even hundreds of years ago, there were the same kinds of themes and discussions regarding life and individual decisions and interpersonal relations that we still deal with today.”

These were lessons that Ysabelle did not forget once she submitted the final “Human Sit” paper. They still form part of her critical-thinking skill set: “A lot issues—philosophical, social, spiritual—were addressed, and I use them as a platform to build on and formulate my thoughts today.”

From 2012-2016, Ysabelle became a familiar face around Honors, taking on many roles and responsibilities. She had a very busy schedule both inside and outside the classroom—a typical day would begin at dawn in the gym, then to the classroom and

labs, followed by tutoring - and ending late at night in the library! Mentoring and tutoring were two recurring themes during her UH years. For example, one of her own mentors, Dr. Alison Leland, had Ysabelle attended and speak with an orientation session for potential African-American students. She also became very involved with an “inclusive and accepting” on-campus church group. Moreover, she returned to the stimulating Human Sit atmosphere as both a Writing Fellow and the Team Alpha TA.

Majoring in geology, Ysabelle graduated from NSM with a Bachelor of Science degree. However, she is quick to point out that she is as likely to strike up a conversation about Caravaggio as she is about chemistry. She enjoys the challenge of “going beyond my major and what might be expected of me.”

What can be expected of Ysabelle, who “likes to do a lot of outreach,” is her ongoing interest in service. Professionally, she works as a Business Systems Analyst for an IT company; in her spare time, she spents her time at Interfaith Ministries as an orientation and special events volunteer. She has also started a blog called Ysabelle’s Essence (ysabellesessence.com); her hope is that people who visit the site will leave happier and more motivated.

One of her goals is to take a return trip to Nigeria. “When I do re-visit,” she remarks, “it will be with a very different purpose. The first time I went there, it was to help myself. I was looking for a sense of identity. Now I know who I am and I’m in a position to give back and hopefully influence and inspire.” Her ultimate goal, she says, “is to go into charity work, where I can get the opportunity to truly help, inspire, and empower people to reach their potential.”

Before, during, and after her time in Honors, Ysabelle Abraham has been engaged with learning and life. She has put into practice what we call, theoretically, “high impact practices”: study abroad, service learning, career exploration. What comes naturally to her was affirmed by the people and programs of our academic community. She is passionate about extending those kinds of opportunity to other people, in Houston and far beyond.

“They say ‘charity begins at home,’” she notes. “I have many homes. And though I have graduated from UH, I will always consider this University one of the places I call home.”