"I find inspiration in my parents, gaining strength from their example of pursuing lifelong education."
Irteza, Stanford University
Hometown: Charlottesville, VA
Growing up, people asked if I was the girl who lived in the house that looked like a palace. In fact, I did. I grew up in Bangladesh in an upper middle class family. For the sake of pursuing the highest quality education for their children, my physician parents moved to America when I was 10 years old. They soon became working class folks, struggling to make ends meet since their medical degrees did not find value in the U.S. Growing up, my siblings and I wanted to make sure that my parents’ sacrifice was not futile. We worked hard to live frugally and study diligently. My parents started attending community college to pursue their Associate’s degree in Nursing. They worked, studied, and raised a family — all without complaint because they loved us more than they loved personal ambition or a life full of material luxuries.
I don’t remember a childhood of great ease, but I do remember that it was and always has been full of love. Since my parents didn’t have a car and didn’t know how to drive, we took the bus everywhere in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. We used a cart to bring back dozens of books and movies (on cassette!) since my father wanted to make sure we had plenty of books to read and movies to watch for our enjoyment and education. I still remember my father kneeling by the bookshelves in our library in Charlottesville, poring through movie descriptions, trying to select ones that we could watch together as a family.
My older sister ended up receiving the Tyng Scholarship as a QuestBridge Scholar at Williams. I ended up as a QuestBridge Scholar at Stanford, and my younger brother is now currently a QuestBridge Scholar at Davidson. QuestBridge changed my family’s educational experience and our future trajectories. I gained exposure to the world through my time at Stanford. I studied abroad in South Africa and England and saw places I had only imagined when my family had no money with which to travel. I understood books I could not previously comprehend and made friends who genuinely care about bettering the world around them.
Currently, my sister and I are both pursuing Ph.D.’s, while my younger brother has already started conducting research about improving health outcomes amongst poor communities in the U.S. I am currently studying International Educational Development at the University of Pennsylvania and hope to conduct my research in Bangladesh on universal access to quality education for poor families. I also have ongoing projects to study Muslim American youth in public schools in the U.S., especially during the Trump Era.
As I continue my work, I find inspiration in my parents, gaining strength from their example of pursuing lifelong education. Sometimes, a Ph.D. feels like it won’t have the kind of impact I want to have in the world, and I begin to feel discouraged. But ideas have power. My father taught me that. I hope that I can produce ideas that can positively impact my various communities through action.
Education remains one way to transform societies. It has many faults and fissures —poor kids are still disproportionately disenfranchised, sometimes even with educational qualifications, especially due to discrimination due to race, class, and religion. Despite its flaws, however, I still believe that education remains one way in which families like mine can move forward towards a better life. I hope that through academia, community service, and political activism, I can continue to help equip young kids, especially from low-income backgrounds, to chip away at the vast inequities impacting our communities. QuestBridge is a part of this initiative, and I want to continue being part of the Quest family. To them, I will remain forever grateful.
Written by Irteza Binte-Farid, Stanford University '13. For more stories like this, please visit QuestBridge Storytelling.