City University of New York, Lehman College

Samsiya Ona (2010)

My First Generation Story

I was born in Sokode, Togo. I came to the U.S. in 2006 to join my father, who had been here for five years. My siblings and I came here to join him and we now live in the South Bronx. Back home, education is very expensive and many families can’t afford higher education. My parents stressed the importance of education since we were kids. Unfortunately, my siblings didn’t get to go past high school. There was also the language barrier—we spoke French. But even back then, I liked English. I just felt like it was fancy and worldwide. I felt like it would be fun to have another language, apart from French. I didn’t know then that I would need it one day.

My father was really keen on higher education. When I came here, he enrolled me in the International English Language Institute at Hunter College. At the time, I was the only one in my family who had my high school diploma already, so I didn’t need to take the GED. I passed the ACT and then applied to Lehman College. I was thinking about becoming a doctor, so I started doing pre-nursing. Then, one of my professors recommended me for the Lehman Scholars program, so during my second semester, I switched my focus back to pre-med.

The Lehman Scholars Program and LSAMP program has helped me a lot. I got to take seminars that taught me much about American history. Now, I have a better understanding of the whole educational system in general. That’s the reason I will be graduating in 3.5 years instead of 4. They really helped me to get the right information and know the correct next steps, ahead of time.

I became interested in becoming a doctor when I was a child. The hospital where I was born in Togo is where we all went for medical care and there was limited staff. I was a really sick kid. My mother also has ulcers. So my mother was always going back and forth with me to the hospital. It always took so long to be seen and they were really short staffed. I felt that, if I were a doctor, I could help my mother. I can only see myself going to medical school. It’s always been my path. I not only work and go to classes, I also have to think about giving back to the community. I volunteer at Montefiore Medical Center in patient care, assisting doctors, the nurses, and whoever needs help.

I wish that all of us (siblings) were in the same situation, as in going to college. They see me as someone who will take them through it, and one day they will get there. If I do it, they know they can also do it. They are very proud of me. If I fail, they may think that this is not doable. Looking at my dad, and all he has been through to get us here, there’s no option for failure.

My college experience is not what I thought it would be. I was really nervous. This is a country where I don’t know anybody and no one is there to tell you what to expect throughout the whole journey. But if you make the decision to come in, that’s all it takes. Just keep taking classes, know what you want to do, be focused on it. My focus right now is getting into an M.D./Ph.D. program. I definitely feel like giving back to my community in Togo. I want to focus on prevention and infectious diseases. I would also like to do research.

About the Student

FGV: Samsiya Ona 2

Lehman senior Samsiya Ona spent last summer in the sweltering heat of Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, pursuing the kind of unglamorous research that science sometimes demands. The title of her presentation at the Peach State LSAMP (Loui Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) conference tells it all: “The Effect of Septic Tanks on Soil Quality in Tierra Baja and Puerto Rey.” It was good enough to win her first place in the environmental sciences segment. Samsiya, 22, came to New York in June 2006 from Togo, where she graduated from College Protestant in Lomé, the capital of the West African nation. She started at Lehman in Fall 2007, pursuing a dual degree in Anthro/Bio/Chem and Biology, and plans to go on for her M.D./Ph.D.

Student Stats

Name: Samsiya Ona (2010)
Age: 22
Year in School: Senior
Major: Anthro-Bio-Chem and Biology (Dual major)
Favorite Course: Physics
Dream Job: Physician Researcher

About the School

FGV: Lehman College

With more than 60,000 alumni and 12,000 students, Lehman College serves the Bronx and our surrounding region as an intellectual, economic, and cultural center. The College is named after Herbert H. Lehman, who was governor of New York State, a U.S. Senator, and an internationalist. His values of dedicated public service continue to guide the College today.



  • Kellee Edmonds
    Vice President of Communications and Public Relations
    (202) 478-4662