Helping Asian students feel at home at UConn

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Grace Merritt

3 min read

Monika Doshi ’99 (CLAS) remembers a conversation she had with her dad when she was in high school as he drove her to a college interview.

“He said, ‘So what did you have to do for the college application?’ I told him and then he said, ‘What do you mean you had to write an essay? What did you write about?’ This was the first time he was asking me about this, and I was on my way to go interview for potential admission to a college,” she says.

Unlike many of her classmates, whose parents helped them fill out college applications and FAFSA forms, Doshi had a more challenging time navigating the college experience as the daughter of an immigrant family.

That’s a large part of the reason that she and her husband, Fahd A. Vahidy ’95 (CLAS), ’98 MA, are so involved now in supporting immigrant and first-generation students at UConn. Both Doshi and Vahidy, who is also from an immigrant family, say they know what it feels like to be an “outsider” at college. The couple, who met at UConn, says they found a home in the Asian American Cultural Center and felt supported by several wonderful mentors and professors during their years at UConn.

Since graduating, they have generously donated to the center and spent decades volunteering as mentors and lecturers. They frequently attend center events and serve on student and alumni panels as well as the center’s advisory board.

They have also contributed in several other ways to the greater UConn community. Vahidy, who is a philanthropic advisor for the William Graustein Memorial Fund, recently began serving on the advisory board for UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“It’s a privilege and has given me insight into the school’s academic programs, hiring, and strategic plan,” he says.

Doshi, an assistant professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health, has guest lectured at UConn’s Asian American Studies Institute. She has also done contract work at UConn’s Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy, better known as InCHIP, a center where researchers from across disciplines come together to collaborate on projects.

They both agree that the student body has become more diverse and culturally aware since their time at UConn.

“I think the student body is very different now and they are quite active,” Vahidy says. “It’s been so encouraging to see where the student body is going in terms of acting upon their values and organizing in a way to support the type of culture that we can all be really proud of. I’m very excited and bullish about the future of UConn,” he says.

Vahidy and Doshi, who live in West Hartford, Connecticut, have both devoted much of their lives to public service. In addition to his volunteer work at UConn, Vahidy has served on the board of the Connecticut Council of Philanthropy and recently joined the board of the New Alliance Foundation. Doshi spent the first half of her career as an independent consultant helping others by working on public health projects mainly in Africa and Asia.

But most of their volunteering and donations are devoted to the Asian American Cultural Center, which provided critical support when they were students.

“It made me come to terms with my own identity,” Doshi says. “At that age, I was struggling quite a bit with my identity, just being an immigrant to this country and straddling two very different cultures.”

Both remain close to the center’s director, Angela Rola, whom they consider “extended family.” Rola says the feeling is mutual, adding that she values the couple’s energy and commitment to the center.

“They are very humble and genuine and that’s what we appreciate,” Rola says. “I know when they come to lecture in classes or sit on alumni panels that students get a lot from them. The students appreciate the roads they’ve traveled because they see themselves in Monika and Fahd and see that, ‘Oh, the struggles that I’m feeling now are very similar to what they’re talking about.’ They see the trajectory that they’ve gone through and that’s an inspiration for many students.

“They do this because it gives them a sense of purpose,” she adds. “They believe in the power of education and their contributions here have had a critical impact on generations of students. They are extraordinary people.”

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