Fatoumata Barrow has been accepted into seven of the eight colleges to which she’s applied. The eighth, New York University, her dream college, hasn’t yet responded. She’s hopeful, with good reason.
As a senior at East High School, Fatou currently holds a 3.74 GPA. And with “first generation college student” standing (her brother Muhammed attends UWM), she consciously works to make her mother, a CNA at Meriter Hospital, proud.
“As a single mom who immigrated from Gambia in West Africa, my mom has always instilled in us to have a better life than her, so I’ve always taken my inspiration from her. I wanted to see myself succeed because I know what I want my life to look like and what she’d want from me.”
As a child of immigrants (her father has since moved back to Gambia), Fatou had some years of self doubt and not knowing quite where she fit in. She identifies as African and African American, having been born here, but feels there’s a cultural difference between herself and many other Black students because she’s a direct descendant of African parents.
In her early school years, Fatou's feelings of alienation were compounded by the dominance of white students. At Lapham and Marquette Elementary Schools she distinctly remembers that few looked like her. O’Keeffe offered more diversity, but she felt it was only a stepping stone to the diversity she sees at East High. Here, she says, the community with whom she’s surrounded herself has made all the difference in how she fits in.
“I think community is a big thing. I like to surround myself with different types of people, my friends are African American, Latino, a diverse group of people, not just one group of people because I think that limits my view. I like to learn about different cultures.”
Along with a diverse community of friends, Fatou has chosen a variety of activities that have helped launch her academic success. She sites her participation in AVID as a program that keeps her on track at school, and Information Technology Academy (ITA), a UW Madison-developed curriculum designed to cultivate leadership skills and increase student diversity on the UW Madison campus, as one that keeps her grades “super high.” ITA’s location on the UW-Madison campus is a reminder of the ultimate prize since ITA participation and acceptance into UW-Madison has earned her full, four-year tuition.
“They (AVID and ITA) work together, but ITA puts the idea into my head because it’s directly connected to a prestigious university that is hard to get into, I had to keep my standards high because completing it was a goal that I wanted to achieve it.”
Fatou is a member of numerous clubs, such as Sisterhood, Black Student Union, International Club and National Honor Society. She plans to major in psychology with the possibility of a double in political science in case she decides on Law School. Her end goal, however, as she states in the essay that helped her get acceptance into colleges of her choice, is to “make a difference in how African-Americans are treated and are made to feel growing up in a place where they feel they don’t belong, as this is how I have felt growing up.”
But first she says she needs to continue to educate herself. And then she will ‘use her knowledge as an opportunity to have an even larger voice to change the world around her.’
- Pat Dillon