The George W. Jenkins Scholarship

The George W. Jenkins Scholarship is awarded to high achievers with the strength to overcome adversity. Read how past recipients have used their scholarships to gain success in challenging yet rewarding fields of work.

Being There: A medical director provides lifesaving environmental health guidance.

From an early age, Nina Ahmad dreamed of becoming a physician. What she never imagined, however, was that her medical career would take her all over the world and help save her own mother’s life.

Growing up near Orlando, Nina often heard inspiring stories about her uncle, a community doctor in Pakistan, and she set out to follow in his footsteps.

By her senior year at a medical magnet high school, Nina had a stellar academic record, but financing her higher education was uncertain. Receiving the Jenkins Scholarship to the University of South Florida (USF) changed her life, and made possible her career in medicine.

At USF, Nina found her stride in the study of microbiology and involvement in community service. She graduated magna cum laude and went on to Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University. Nina’s hard work and passion for helping others led her to a family practice residency program in New Jersey.

Then suddenly the unthinkable happened. Nina’s mother contracted the H1N1 virus, a life-threatening strain of flu. After several misdiagnoses, Mrs. Ahmad called for her daughter’s medical opinion. Nina suspected H1N1 and insisted that her mother go immediately to the emergency room. Soon Mrs. Ahmad was unconscious, her lungs severely compromised, and Nina was on a plane to Florida. She never left her mother’s side, staying in constant communication with the treating physicians and even consulting with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At one point, Mrs. Ahmad was near the end, breathing only with a ventilator. But Nina and her family never gave up. Finally, Mrs. Ahmad made a comeback—and eventually, a complete recovery.

“Counseling my family and others in the waiting room when Mom was ill gave me a better patient perspective,” said Nina. “I realized physicians don’t always speak in ways that are easy to understand.”

After completing her residency and serving as assistant director for the residency program and clinical director for four medical schools, Nina made her next big career move. Inspired by the experience with her mother, she applied for the CDC’s competitive Epidemic Intelligence Service program and joined a team of about 80 health practitioners engaged in applied epidemiology. Nina traveled to places like Los Angeles to investigate a tuberculosis outbreak among the homeless, and Malawi to analyze a chronic lung disease of unknown origin in an HIV-infected pediatric population.

Now, as medical director with the New York State Department of Health, she provides environmental health guidance for diseases like Ebola, and her actions continue to make a difference in the lives of many.

“The medical recommendations we deliver to healthcare providers have profound impacts in the care of patients,” said Nina. “This inspires me to work hard and be passionate about what I do every day.”

Being There: A Teach for America educator encourages students to reach for their dreams.

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His first day as a middle school science teacher, Shahaan Razak broke up a parent fight, caught students with drugs, and entered a classroom with a multitude of challenges. While many teachers fresh out of college might buckle when faced with these hurdles, Shahaan is not like many teachers.

“I quickly learned the importance of building relationships with students and families,” said Shahaan. “Sometimes I visit homes and sit down to talk.”

Born in New York to immigrant parents from Guyana, Shahaan moved to Florida at age seven. Though his teen years brought personal difficulties, Shahaan worked full-time and excelled academically. By graduation, he was at the top of his class.

“My high school sweetheart, now my wife Priscilla, suggested I apply for the Jenkins Scholarship at Miami,” Shahaan recalls. “When the call came, everything changed.”

Soon after high school, Shahaan and Priscilla married and jumped into college life. Shahaan—determined to make the most of his scholarship—led clubs, worked, and was named to the Dean’s Dozen for his achievements.

Their junior year, the couple welcomed a daughter. Becoming a father changed Shahaan’s perspective, but certainly did not slow him down. By age 21, he graduated with high honors and secured a highly sought-after position with Teach for America.

“I wanted to pay my education forward and improve the lives of my students,” Shahaan said.

A regional finalist for the Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teaching Award, Shahaan engaged his seventh graders in the analysis and debate of a college-level nonfiction book addressing scientific discovery and bioethics.

“It was amazing to see how far they came,” said Shahaan. “They learned to respect each other, and I learned a great deal from their points of view.”

Shahaan teaches his students that, if they want to succeed in life, it’s up to them to set goals and choose the next step. What’s next for Shahaan? He has his sights set on medical school.

“It’s easy to make excuses not to follow our dreams,” said Shahaan. “But, just like I tell my students: Find a way.”

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