Brandywine Student Spotlight: Naimah Dristi

Girl smiling standing in front of trees

Naimah Dristi

Credit: Naimah Dristi

Major: Psychology

Minor: Human Development and Family Studies

Year: Third

Involvement: President of Civic and Community Engagement Club; secretary of Muslim Student Association; Treasurer of Bangladeshi Student Association; intern at the Center for Social Impact; orientation leader; Lion Guide

Brandywine: Why did you choose to attend Penn State Brandywine?

Dristi: When I was in high school, I attended a college fair that was held here at Brandywine. It was also the first college campus I visited. I liked how small the campus was. Coming from a high school with over 4,000 students, I knew that a big school wasn’t for me. I liked how Brandywine had a small-campus feel and small class sizes.

Another reason why I chose Brandywine is because a student from here visited my high school and said how much she loved Brandywine. That happened a little bit before we had to commit to a school, and I took that as a sign to choose Brandywine.

Brandywine: How did you pick your major?

Dristi: I came to Brandywine intending to major in biology. Upon coming into college, I was a part of the Pathway to Success Summer Start program (PaSSS), so I started taking some biology classes in the summer of 2020. I wasn’t sure if that was the right path for me, though. In high school, I took a psychology class through dual enrollment. I liked that class, and I thought that maybe psychology would be a better fit for me because I like learning about why people think in certain ways. 

In my second year of college, I took a human development and family studies (HDFS) course, and I decided I wanted that to be my minor because I like working with people. Combining HDFS and psychology would allow me to get a job in social work or counseling after college.

Brandywine: What challenges have you faced at Brandywine, if any?

Dristi: I wouldn’t say I faced any challenges because of Brandywine, but a challenge I’ve dealt with in college is juggling jobs outside of school, figuring out my future and my career plans. I struggled a lot with burnout in the spring 2022 semester because of my work plus other situations that were going on outside of school.

I ended up going to Counseling Services here at Brandywine. They were amazing at helping me work through my problems. If anything, Brandywine has helped me with my challenges during my time here.

Brandywine: How has Penn State Brandywine supported you, and who at Brandywine has supported you the most?

Dristi: I came to Brandywine during the pandemic, so everything was online. While in the PaSSS program, the admissions counselor, Claire Nolan, would always check in with us to see how we were doing and if we needed help with anything. She’s since gotten promoted to Penn State University Park, and I’m really happy for her.

Then also, my counselor Elizabeth Egg-Krings helped me with all my problems last spring. She made me realize that we have to push through our problems and things do get better. If our problems don’t get better, we have to find different ways to face them so they’re easier to manage.

The entire Center for Social Impact team definitely supports me the most, I would say. Vippy Yee (former Rosenberg director of the Center for Social Impact) was always pushing me to do things and letting me know that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. Christine Brown (the interim Rosenberg director for the Center for Social Impact) was one of my professors and was a coach to me when I was a peer mentor. She’s just such a positive person. She genuinely cares about her students and makes sure we’re all doing okay. I would even say Katy Carpenter (program and marketing coordinator at the Center for Social Impact) and Stephanie Fitzgerald (administrative assistant at the Center for Social Impact) are also really supportive. They’re such amazing people who give back to the community and create meaningful relationships.

Brandywine: What made you interested in getting involved at the Center for Social Impact?

Dristi: During the pandemic, there was a virtual club fair, which was a very interesting experience. I talked to Vippy over Zoom, and it piqued my interest. When we came back to school in person, I talked to Sumaya Islam, who has an intern for the center at the time. She actually went to my high school and was president of a community service club there. She told me about the events they held and the community service work they did, so I wanted to join.

After talking to Sumaya, I emailed Vippy asking if I could intern at the center. Since it was the middle of the semester, she, unfortunately, couldn’t hire any interns. I saw her again before school began this school year at a clean-up event at the Tyler Arboretum and talked to her about the internship again. She helped me get started in the fall, and I’ve been an intern there ever since!

Brandywine: What are you currently working on at the center?

Dristi: I’m working on a bit of everything at the center. I’m most excited to speak at another TEDx Circle at the end of the semester. We picked food insecurity as our topic because it’s such an important thing to discuss. Last semester, I did a TEDx Circle about rethinking fast fashion with my friend and fellow intern Roshni Ohi. We talked in depth about fast fashion and the detrimental effects it has on the environment.

Brandywine: What projects and events have you taken part in for the center? Which one sticks out the most to you and why?

Dristi: I’ve been involved in so many projects and events during my time at the center. I’d say the events that stick out the most to me are Martin Luther King Jr. Week and the week of the Social Justice Fair.

The Social Justice Fair is a week where we focus on social justice issues. Last year, the week revolved around environmental racism and justice. We had such amazing speakers. We took a trip to Chester that week to see how environmental racism impacts communities close to us. The incinerators there cause huge problems for the community — there are even two incinerators right across the street from each other. They’re not good for the air. There’s barely anyone walking around there, and there aren’t really any stores. Chester is a food desert, and it’s hard for many people to get groceries. It was so eye-opening to see this happening so close to us.

This year, the theme is migration and immigration. As a first-generation college student and immigrant from Bangladesh, this topic hit close to home for me. Not a lot of people talk about migration or immigration after they come here because they’re focusing on fitting in and surviving, which is a lot to handle.

Brandywine: What inspired you to join the Civic and Community Engagement Club? What ultimately led you to become the president of that club?

Dristi: Sumaya was actually the president of the Civic and Community Engagement Club when I spoke to her during my second year, so I heard about it then. We were in a community service club together in high school, where we did a lot of cleanups and donated clothes. We do that same thing at the center now, which is cool. She asked me to be a part of the club, so I joined.

I was the treasurer in 2021, and then I became vice president. This year, the president stepped down because her schedule got really busy, so I decided to run for the position since I had a lot of experience with the club. I went to events consistently and participated in so many volunteering events.

Brandywine: With the extracurricular activities you’re involved in at Brandywine, how have they impacted your time on campus?

Dristi: Honestly, I’m someone who really enjoys going to events, especially being a part of creating them. I like being involved because I feel like if you don’t go to events, you’ll think there isn’t anything going on around campus. It’s so easy to go from class to class and then go home, and you don’t realize activities are happening. If you don’t go to these events, you’re limiting yourself from making connections, learning and having fun.

Being involved in so much, though, means I have to pick and choose what events I go to. Sometimes, there will be a club meeting happening, but there might also be an event happening in the Vairo Library or the Student Union. It’s a bummer having to pick and choose.

Even though I’m so involved in organizations, I spend most of my time on campus in class or studying. When I’m not studying or in class, I’ll be at the center or in the quiet zone of Vairo washing clothes for the career closet. I’ll either be doing that or helping set up events, like the Bengali New Year and Eid celebrations. I try to do a lot on campus because I love making the best out of my time here and having fun.

Brandywine: What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned at Brandywine?

Dristi: The most valuable lessons I’ve learned here are to utilize Brandywine’s resources and get to know people. I think so many people don’t realize the amazing opportunities this campus has. There are so many research projects to take part in. There are also so many internship opportunities and places to either tutor or get tutored, including the STEM lab and the writing studio. If you need help, people are here to help you. There are plenty of activities here that you can put on your resume. If you’re someone who doesn’t seek out these opportunities, you’re not going to get to take advantage of them.

Talk with people on campus, whether it’s students, faculty or staff. I feel like most of the campus jobs I got were because I talked with a professor. A professor is more likely to reach out to you with opportunities if you’re active in class. If you’re quiet, try to get to know your professor outside of class hours.

"Talk with people on campus, whether it’s students, faculty or staff. I feel like most of the campus jobs I got were because I talked with a professor."

—Naimah Dristi , third-year psychology student, Penn State