Elmira Brown '14 overcame many obstacles to receive a bachelor's in social sciences. The Uzbekistan native is now pursuing an M.P.H. at Adelphi.

by Ela Schwartz

“Today I can look back, and say—as an immigrant, without knowing the language or having connections—I did it.”—Elmira Brown ’14

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Elmira Brown ’14 dreamed of becoming a doctor. Political upheaval changed that.

As a member of the Tajik minority in what is now Uzbekistan, she found herself unable to enroll in medical school, even though her father was a doctor.

“My dream was ruined,” she said. Undeterred, she moved to the United States in 2000. “I could barely speak English, much less read or write. But I had a huge life in front of me and a dream of education and opportunities.”

Over the years, she worked in a medical office and a psychiatric hospital and at Columbia University Medical Center. At Mount Sinai Health System, she carried out clinical research on a national children’s study, where she learned about diversity in populations and how minorities are often underrepresented. She said she fell in love with clinical research because “we are trying to change the system and make a difference.”

Although she was progressing in her career, Brown refused to give up on pursuing a bachelor’s degree. She took classes in community college but wasn’t satisfied with the education she was receiving.

“The professor tells you what to do—no explanation,” she said. Then an acquaintance told her about Adelphi. “She said it’s intensive, the professors are great and I would learn a lot.”

Brown decided to enroll in University College, even though her second child was due any day.

“I missed the first class because I was in labor,” she said. “The next week, [Senior Adjunct Faculty Gregory] Canell asked why I was out. I told him, ‘I tried to come, but I had just given birth.’ He said, ‘If there was a picture in the dictionary next to the word dedication, it would be of you.’”

Raising two children while taking classes wasn’t easy.

“I’d be typing papers with one hand and holding my baby with the other,” she said. “But whenever I felt I couldn’t do it, I’d picture his [Canell’s] face.”

Her professors were taking note of her progress and abilities and encouraged her to further her education after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in social sciences. Gordon Welty, Ph.D., referred her to the Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) program, and Daniel Rosenberg, Ph.D., provided her with a letter of reference. And, she said, her parents were always there to offer their help and support, even though they were still in Uzbekistan.

She never entertained the possibility of enrolling in graduate school anywhere else but Adelphi. Even the hour-long drive from Staten Island didn’t faze her.

“I had such great professors,” she noted, adding, “I learned so much at Adelphi, and all my classes are relevant.“

So far she is finding the M.P.H. program “beyond my expectations.” And her 12-year-old daughter, who sometimes joins her on those long car rides, “says the campus is so pretty and calm, and she loves the bunnies,” Brown said, laughing. “She’s telling me she wants to go to Adelphi for college.”

Perhaps one day her daughter will also overcome obstacles to attain her dreams, just as her mother is doing.

“Today I can look back,” Brown said, “and say—as an immigrant, without knowing the language or having connections—I did it.”

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