How My Background Inspired My Journey to a Master’s Degree

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Hatab Fadera
By: Hatab Fadera 
Pursuing higher education abroad was always a lifelong dream I was determined to achieve. There was never a time that I didn’t remind myself of this goal. This dream was inspired by my background and experiences growing up in rural Gambia and later in Greater Banjul under the tutelage of my late sister. I come from a humble background where my late mom was a rice grower, a horticulturist, and a women leader, while my late dad was a farmer, a religious scholar, and a herbalist.
Although very young, when my mom passed, I saw how my parents of blessed memory toiled hard each day to cater to our needs. Yet there was that vicious cycle of abject poverty that hovered and persisted. Despite their hard work, the returns were only good to keep the next meal on the table. The collective hard work of my parents fostered a strong desire to reach my fullest potential. They became my first role models; their tenacity and endurance were superior. Nevertheless, it would be my late sister, Mariama Fadera (AKA Binta Sarr), whose mentorship, guidance, and self-awareness significantly impacted my life (and my other siblings).
An independent young educated woman, Mariama became that mother figure after losing our mom so early into our young lives. The Big Sister she was, Mariama, shepherded us through rough times as my siblings and I navigated the rugged terrains of childhood and adolescents. Nothing was more critical to her than seeing us become educated and independent young men and women befitting of society, educated and independent just like her. In her mentorship, she taught us responsibility and what it meant to be goal-oriented and fight daily to pursue our goals.
And it is this fighting spirit she taught us that led to this day. Each day I put up a vigorous fight in pursuit of my goals. I dream big, and I work towards achieving them. After all, famous German-born Theoretical Physicist Albert Einstein asked us to “Never give up on what you really want to do.” I have never looked back.
My journey to my master’s degree program started in late 2020, the same year I graduated from the University of The Gambia (B.A., Journalism, Cum Laude). That year, I became the U.S. State Department Africa Bureau’s Finalist for the U.S. Department of State’s global award, recognizing their outstanding locally employed staff across the globe. By becoming the African Bureau candidate, I was among the six best Department locally employed staff globally for that year, each representing a region. While I took great pride in this enormous feat, the honor was the highest I could achieve at the U.S. Embassy especially given that I also won the Mission’s Locally Employee of The Year for FY19. I thought the time was ripe to move on to more significant challenges. I thought about the next steps in my academic pursuits, and I immediately started to look for schools just anywhere and apply to several global scholarships.
I reflected on my career and where I want to be in the next five years. Having done journalism all my life, I wanted something more challenging, something with a media touch yet interdisciplinary. At the time, my terrific friend, Yankuba Senghore, AKA Yanks, was aware of the programs I was looking for in the U.S. Alongside my research, Yanks was also on the lookout (He always has that eagle eye for me). And as fate would have it, he came across a program at Ball State University, the kind of program I wanted – Emerging Media Design and Development (EMDD). EMDD is a STEM program, an interdisciplinary field focusing on human-computer interactions, design thinking, UX Design and UI, and Transmedia Storytelling. At this time, I had also applied for and gained admission to Elon University and Southern Illinois University. Elon offered a merit-based scholarship, but I needed more for my program. Given my excitement for EMDD and the opportunities there exist, I decided to focus on Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, USA.
I started the tedious challenge of the Ball State University admission process, which began with a transcript evaluation in the U.S. I finally secured admission to the Class of 2023. However, this was just the beginning of a thorough adventure. Ball State offers several graduate assistantships in exchange for tuition remission. But these positions are competitive, with many international students and U.S. citizens competing for the limited slots. My immediate challenge was to secure a graduate assistantship, as there was no way I could afford nearly $30,000 per academic year. I spent several late nights applying to any graduate assistantship position so long as I was confident I could do the job. I got shortlisted for a few positions but was not selected. Eventually, I secured two offers. The offer I settled for came from the distinguished Professor Jennifer Palilonis, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Emerging Media Design and Development. Jennifer was also my academic advisor. As my boss and academic supervisor, Jenn hired me for an exciting job with the Lifetime Learning Initiative, a new flagship program of Ball State University. My job included script annotation and the creation of instructional design videos for the project. During my first academic year with the Lifetime Learning project, I edited 33 instructional design videos. This project greatly enhanced my multimedia production skills and exposed me to critical new skills. My contract with Lifetime Learning was renewed for the remainder of my program at Ball State.
The last two academic years at BSU have been an extraordinary experience. EMDD is a very competitive program that allowed us to conceive, research, design, ideate, deploy, and test communication designs and storytelling across digital platforms. It equipped us with skillsets in user-centered design, user experience research, transmedia storytelling, and design thinking. Its second-year projects allowed us to work with external partners to research and create design solutions to real-world problems. Reflecting, I am grateful that I was accepted into such a program. My special thanks go to the ever amazing Professor Jennifer Palilonis for giving me what I consider a life-changing opportunity. I am forever indebted to her. Similarly, I thank the many great professors who helped me to succeed at BSU.
As I wrapped what was a truly fulfilling journey, I am grateful to Allah for seeing me through. God was always there. I also thank my super-loyal friend Yanks and his wife, Kim, for their tremendous support throughout this journey. They were just phenomenal. I thank my family for their patience as I prioritized my school. Thank you to Citizen Jarju for hosting me in Las Vegas during my summer internship pursuits.
To everyone who dares to dream, especially those from rural Gambia, I inspire you to keep fighting and believing in your future. Dream big, and those dreams will come true.

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