When speaking with Debi, you’ll find one defining theme to her story: support. But let’s back up a bit. Born and raised in New York City, Brooklyn, to be specific, Debi attended Stuyvesant High School, which she describes as a “high caliber high school [...] known for the sciences,” though she also points out “they have a great theater program, nobody really talks about that,” even though she mentions that was the program she was involved in at her high school.
Colloquially, she calls the school “Stuy,” and, in her own words, “Stuy gave me the opportunity to really see myself as something bigger. Especially coming from a low income background, I really regard Stuy as the catalyst for me being here right now.”
I think that felt really affirming for me, just because Rice is not common in New York and it’s not well known in New York. And so I felt like I was pioneering a new path to some degree.
This is also how Debi came to learn about QuestBridge, since a significant portion of students who attend Stuyvesant High School are lower income, and that’s where the support comes in; “things like low income programs, QuestBridge, financial aid, all that is talked about in Stuy - there’s a lot of resources.” So for Debi, being familiar with QuestBridge certainly helped, but also the culture in her community helped, so that “when you need resources, you can ask for them. And there is an abundance of information in the college process as well. So you’re supported through every step of the process.” She even describes a network of students that connect through Facebook to help give advice throughout the application process.
Even so, Debi didn’t decide to apply for QuestBridge until two weeks before the deadline, after she had a conversation with a mentor who encouraged her, saying “yeah, you should go for it.” At first, she explains “I initially had kind of written it off as something that maybe I was not qualified enough for,” which she knows now isn’t true, and when thinking about what advice she would give to other students, “don’t write it off” like she did at first.
And while not every high school may be as resource-rich as Stuyvesant was for Debi, “you can always reach out somewhere,” pointing towards the support that the QuestBridge program itself provides for students: “there’s a lot of institutional support within QuestBridge, which the QuestBridge scholars are also responsible for helping you out through the application process - they can text you, they can call you. You can always request help through the QuestBridge website itself to ask for help on the application.”
It’s clear that Debi is passionate about supporting and encouraging other students, especially ones who are considering Rice University, saying “it’s really worth doing because it’s a full scholarship,” and that “we’re trying to get you to be here [...] you benefit from being here. So I think it’s worth it.”
Surprisingly, Debi only ended up ranking five schools - her reasoning behind keeping her list short was because she only “ranked schools that I would want to go to.” She explains how she researched all the ranked schools on her list, making sure to set up a meeting with her high school counselor to discuss each and every one. Her list was also short because “I ended up ranking based on culture and not on name or prestige or anything like that.”
So then, when she matched with Rice, she knew it was a place she would belong. When she found out the results of the match, she says “I think that felt really affirming for me, just because Rice is not common in New York and it’s not well known in New York. And so I felt like I was pioneering a new path to some degree.” She goes on to explain that the previous year, only two students from her high school went to Rice, and then when she was accepted through QuestBridge, that number jumped up to five, something she is clearly proud of and hopes to continue.
Of her Rice experience? “I’m actually so happy to be here,” she says, “because the culture is so different to my high school. It’s noncompetitive [...] no one asks about grades or scores.”
But that’s just the Rice culture. In academics, Debi is majoring in social policy analysis (nicknamed SOPA at Rice), economics and Asian studies. She credits this to being politically active since she was a child; “to some degree like all roads kind of led to policy for me. So that was a no-brainer.” And of course, economics complements that interest, and is also partially due to her economics course that she took in her senior year of high school.
As for Asian studies, Debi talks about taking a course during the fall semester of her sophomore year on South Asian diasporas with a professor that crucially impacted her; “she’s also Bangladeshi, and that was a very affirming experience to have a Bengali professor.” According to Debi, it was that class that “really pushed me to really examine the Asian studies program, and they also pushed me to get to know a little bit more about my family background. And that’s why I decided to major in it.” She’s also thrilled that due to increased funding, the Asian studies program has continued to offer even more courses on South Asian studies. She concludes “actually, I think it is my favorite major.”
Beyond academics, Debi is heavily involved in the Rice QuestBridge Scholars Network as their events coordinator. This crucial job includes coordinating a lot: “I’m responsible for providing the community on campus. So that means welcome back events, QuestGiving, which is our version of Thanksgiving, study breaks, QuestBowling [...] we just put ‘quest’ in front of everything!”
Though her leadership position in the QuestBridge Scholars network is only one of the many ways she gives back to her community – she’s also involved with Rice Mutual Aid as an organizer that redistributes wealth and money to people that need it on campus.
And as if she wasn’t busy enough with her involvement in both of those student organizations, she also pursues her academic interests outside of the classroom. As the director of outreach for the Baker Institute Student Forum, “I’m responsible for advertising events and I also help plan events,” and in terms of that position, she says “I’m really grateful to be able to do that, because the Baker Institute is like Rice’s jewel,” referencing the groundbreaking work that students and faculty have done through the Baker Institute for Public Policy.
After all that, she even has time to effect change within the Rice community as the diversity and inclusion chair for the student association. She explains that “through [this position], I’m really happy to be able to pioneer important project and important, critical discussions regarding inclusion and O-Week.”
O-week is clearly very important to Debi, as she references this quintessential Rice tradition as being “the thing that has most impacted my experience with my residential college.” Coming to campus as a freshman in the fall of 2020 was definitely a challenging experience, but two years into her life at Rice, Debi says “I just feel like I have a community in a way that I did not before.”
We also asked Debi to share her hopes for after graduation, and of course she reiterated her interest in social policy, either in Washington D.C., or maybe even returning back to New York City. She credits Rice University for this unique opportunity to major in social policy analysis. When originally researching schools, she says “I wanted a university that specifically looked at policy, and analyzed it and the effectiveness, and I think the social policy analysis major equips you to do that, but also puts the focus on tangible policy. [...] I’ve been able to look at the intersection of housing in educational policy and how those tangible policies also impact the future outcomes for children and their potential wealth in the future.”
Coming back to the idea of support, she reiterates that in her desire to effect change and pursue the field of study that she’s passionate about has come back to the support Rice has given her through this unique major and the classes she’s been able to take: “I think Rice has equipped me with certain tangible policy ideas that I would be able to put into practice when I work in federal policy in the future.”