Narda Bondah’s journey to Quinsigamond Community College reads a little like a made for television movie. Ms. Bondah and her younger brother came to Worcester from Ghana to live with their father, after the death of their mother who died in childbirth with her sister. Her little sister stayed behind with relatives.
Imagine losing your mom, leaving your sister and then moving to a foreign country. For many, these circumstances would seem insurmountable, but for Ms. Bondah, they are just a part of the story that makes up her life.
According to Ms. Bondah, the educational system in Ghana is extremely competitive. Placement tests are required to decide which high school a student is allowed to attend after middle school. In Ms. Bondah’s case, she was sent to a high level boarding school for girls a few hours from her home, after scoring well on her placement tests. Rising above the tragic loss of her mom, she completed her high school classes before coming to the U.S. Once in Worcester, she worked on becoming acclimated to the new culture and climate.
Ms. Bondah’s goal had always been to one day attend a good college and become a doctor, however, upon coming to Worcester she learned that she might need to attend a U.S. high school first before beginning college.
“I didn’t take the SATs,” she said. “I was actually done with high school and so a Worcester Public School guidance counselor suggested I get college credits by attending QCC,” she said.
Ms. Bondah was able to do just that and began a slow transition to college life, initially taking 10 credits at QCC.
“The Advising Center was great and they advised me to take only a few courses to start with so that I could get used to the style and rigor of college,” she said.
Ms. Bondah started out as a general studies major, working toward her career goal of becoming a doctor. Associate Professor of Biology, Jessica Crowley, became not only her biology instructor, but also a trusted advisor.
“She was very interested in me and has been so helpful,” Ms. Bondah said. “I love all the professors here and I particularly find the female professors very inspiring.”
A few months after being on campus, Ms. Bondah saw a poster mentioning biomedical engineering. This was when QCC Professor Dadbeh Bigonahy, Coordinator of Engineering, Biomedical Engineering & Sciences stepped into her life.
“I met with him and he said to get into biomedical engineering. I loved the idea of the engineering program. It’s so very broad and I want to be a doctor so this was perfect,” she said.
Ms. Bondah excelled in her classes at QCC and has availed herself of campus resources. Of particular note were activities supported by the STEM Starter Academy that included a robotics tour to UMASS Lowell's NERVE center and a women in STEM program and tutoring sessions.
In the fall of 2016, through a collegiate relationship between QCC and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Dr. Kristen Billiar, the head of the Biomedical Department at WPI, came to QCC to speak with the biomedical students. He discussed the 10-week Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant (“REU”) available at WPI during the summer months.
“I was debating if I was interested and Jessica, who was also at the meeting, thought it would be good exposure for me because I’m interested in medical,” Ms. Bondah said.
Ms. Bondah applied for the program and was accepted into Dr. Billiar’s lab. There she used the knowledge she acquired at QCC to work on a unique project – preventing regurgitation of blood in tissue engineered heart valves.
“People can have misconstrued thoughts about the academics at QCC, yet my educational knowledge and skills were just as good as the other girls from WPI. We all knew the same thing,” said Ms. Bondah. “I used everything I learned in Jessica’s class about cell biology. It made me feel like a pro.”
In addition to her research work at WPI, she was also able to mentor two middle school students, which she said was one of the best parts of the program.
“At QCC I’m also a role model for Ghana girls who are new to the college. They always come to me and I love to help them,” she said. “QCC is a wonderful place. I love the homey environment; especially the Harrington Learning Center and the tutoring center. It’s a place that makes me feel like I want to learn,” she said. “You work hard for your grades, but it’s rewarding when you study hard and do well.”
Ms. Bondah’s hard work has been paying off for her. She was a recent recipient of a 2017 Women of Distinction award; a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and a 2017 recipient of the QCC Alumni Scholarship.
In addition, this October Ms. Bondah will be presenting a poster of her work at the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Conference in Phoenix, AZ., along with fellow QCC classmate (and recent graduate) Fatin Alkhaledi. Both women have student memberships in BMES through QCC. Ms. Bondah’s travel arrangements are being sponsored by a BMES Travel Award provided by the National Society of Black Engineers.
“I have come this far with the help of my family and most importantly my awesome dad, who singlehandedly toiled earnestly for my comfort,” she said.
Ms. Bondah is currently taking a full course load this fall and is expected to graduate in 2018 with the goal of transferring as a junior to either WPI or the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth or the University of Massachusetts Amherst.