Posted March 9, 2020 — “Like many of you, my journey has not been easy,” Aleena Jacob said, delivering the keynote speech at a recent luncheon honoring fellow recipients of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo scholarship.
Jacob, a health major at the University of Houston College of Education, described how she moved to the U.S. from Dubai after her family suffered bankruptcy during the financial crisis of 2008. Her family started over in Houston, building a new life for themselves — but with that came new obstacles.
While Jacob was in high school, her parents battled life-threatening health conditions, and she found it difficult to juggle the responsibilities of school and family while trying to find her own place in the world.
“I remember the days where I had to witness [my mother] unable to speak, eat or simply breathe,” she said in her speech. “Even now, my dad is suffering from a cardiac block. Having family in the hospital multiple times is one of the hardest things to experience.”
Then came the unforgettable email: She won a $20,000 scholarship!
“It was an amazing moment,” she said. “I was in shock and my parents were speechless.”
Jacob is one of 32 current College of Education students who received a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo this year.
She recently took time to answer some questions between classes, interning at Harmony Science Academy and volunteering.
Why specialize in public health?
Public health is a perfect major. It’s a well-rounded health education and it’s flexible, allowing me to constantly do something different. It fits who I am and it’s great for me.
What’s been your favorite class so far at the College of Education?
I’m taking core classes online, but I am looking forward to a class with Dr. (Kayce) Solari Williams next semester. I met her at a health career fair and she’s awesome; I love her energy, what she stands for, and interacting with people like her will push me to be what I want for myself.
You recently gave a speech at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholar’s Lunch. How was that?
It was nerve-racking; I had never attended an event like that, and all these important people were there, but I had the opportunity to share my story. At that moment, I felt like I was getting everything I deserved.
In your speech, you brought up that your parents were battling serious health issues as you were applying for the scholarship. How are they now?
My dad is out of the hospital, slowly recovering. The doctors still can’t figure out the mysterious illness my mom has, but she’s doing good.
I’m sure balancing hospital visits and school was challenging...
I missed school a lot, so I didn’t think I would be salutatorian or the recipient of this scholarship. I’ve just been really blessed.
What are some of your hobbies?
I like to take pictures of everything and write so I can remember things. I also collect information from the Bible, the Quran and the Torah and see how they compare, to encourage people.
What type of music do you usually listen to?
I like songs that are encouraging, so I listen to a lot of Christian music. I also like Indian, Korean, British and Australian music.
You like international culture. Do you like to travel?
Yes, and Dubai has always been my favorite place to visit, even if I lived there for eight years. It just brings back lots of childhood memories and happy times.
— By Alberto Huichapa
— Photo by Jaime Questell