Master of Arts in Religious Studies
One of Venu Mehta’s biggest challenges as an international student at FIU was missing her family in India, particularly her mother, Dr. Purnima Mehta, whom she considers to be one of her greatest influences and mentors.
A strong sense of determination and dedication to learning helped see her through to earn her master’s degree in religious studies, adding to the Ph.D. in multiculturalism through literature education she had already earned in the Gujarat state of India.
Upon her arrival at FIU, Venu immediately stood out to her professors, who were impressed by the cutting-edge social science research she had already done on the Jain community and the American Jain diaspora.
Venu has published an award-winning primer for English speakers to learn the Gujarati language, based on her work as a Fulbright Scholar at Indiana University, Bloomington.
At FIU, she assisted her professors with an effort to catalogue another ancient language, Kacchi, for which there are few dictionaries in North America or Europe. Her work earned her induction into Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society for religious studies and theology, for which she is currently president. She also founded the Preksha Meditation Club, bringing a central practice of Jain spirituality to FIU students.
Following graduation, Venu plans to continue her studies at the University of Florida, where she will pursue her Ph.D. in religious studies.
Bachelor of Arts in International Relations
Kamila Manzueta believes music is a universal language that can unite diverse cultures and spread peace. At FIU, she put her belief and passion into practice as the founder, director and arranger for HEARTbeats, an a cappella group that has performed at FIU commencement, as well as Honors College and Faculty Convocation. Most recently, she represented HEARTbeats at Carnegie Hall for the Total Vocal concert series.
Despite having a double major and two minors, Kamila found time last summer to travel to New York to attend the Next Level Seminar for Musical Directors as she prepared to record her group’s first album with The Vocal Company. She also worked with artist Randy Burman and the O’Miami Foundation to create “Poem to the Sky” at FIU’s Blue Garage, the only installation of its kind at any university in the U.S.
She was twice awarded an Outstanding Student Life Award and also was recognized by the Honors College with an Outstanding Citizenship Award. She has been on the dean’s list every semester and served as a peer instructor in the Honors College.
One of her greatest challenges was losing her high school mentor David Menasche, who died of brain cancer in 2014. His influence helped her learn to live every day to the fullest.
Kamila has been named a Pickering Fellowship finalist and hopes to enter graduate school at either Columbia University or George Mason University to study Latin America and the Caribbean and international security.
Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology
Cortney Zamor has seen enough of the world to believe that whatever challenges she has faced in her life pale in comparison to those of the young women she has known.
In her work as an advocate for girls and women who have endured domestic violence or human trafficking, she has seen more than her fair share of suffering.
Rather than let it cause her to despair, however, Cortney has dedicated herself to being a voice for the voiceless and a leader for organizations involved in the global fight to stop human trafficking.
She has volunteered for numerous organizations, including GlobeMed, a global health organization, where she served as vice president and excelled as a fundraiser. She worked as an advocate for CEDAW, the international bill of rights for women adopted by more than 50 countries. She has also used her talents in Haiti since 2014, again as an advocate for women and children. In 2014, she completed a project to translate books from Creole, her native tongue, to English for young people.
If there has been a challenge in her life, Cortney says it has been understanding that life can be a series of tests and that it is less the outcome of a challenge but how one handles it that ultimately define the person we become.
After graduation, Cortney plans to work fulltime at a startup company and later pursue her MBA.
Bachelor of Arts in History
Going to school while helping support his mother and care for his grandmother, Brahim Almarales faced financial challenges throughout his academic career. Although he received a Bright Futures scholarship, it covered just a small part of his tuition; he paid most of his costs out of pocket.
He worked night jobs and, during the day, worked as a substitute teacher to make ends meet. He credits the support of his family and his girlfriend Gretel to helping him endure. A strong desire to leave a legacy and better opportunities for his future family and to better the world through his work also helped him to persevere.
Despite his difficulties, Brahim maintained a grade point average consistently over 3.5, was active in three honor societies on campus and regularly helped other students with their research and still others to bridge the sometimes challenging process of transferring from Miami Dade College to FIU. Because of his efforts to connect his FIU professors with those at MDC, the Department of History at FIU is planning a field trip for MDC students to visit.
With a strong commitment to and experience in teaching, Brahim plans to teach high school after graduation. He is also applying to graduate schools to continue his studies. He hopes to one day fulfill his dream to be a college professor.
Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Medjy Pierre-Louis’ dream of improving educational opportunities for children in developing countries took her far away from friends and family in Miami – to remote villages in Haiti, Jamaica, India and the West African country of Burkina Faso.
Not speaking the local language and having little contact with the outside world was challenging at times. She missed out on some of the more traditional on-campus college experiences.
The support of FIU faculty and staff helped sustain her, she said, as did the experiences of her father, who received only a limited education growing up in Haiti but still found his way to the United States to start a better life and support his family.
Medjy, a Gates Millenium Scholar who received numerous grants and fellowships to conduct her research, said her father’s story motivated her to help other children “rewrite the stories of their future.’’
In addition to receiving a McNair grant, a Global Learning Fellowship and a Purdue University research grant, Medjy presented her research on Haiti and Jamaica at conferences, interned with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Africa and traveled to India to help develop a grassroots curriculum for an NGO, Barefoot College.
After graduation, Medjy plans to pursue a master’s degree in international education and continue her work to build effective educational programs and provide access to education for the most disadvantaged populations around the world.