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With help from the ODASIS and Access Med programs, Hesbon Isaboke will be the first in his family to graduate college

Through the help of ODASIS and the Access Med program, Hesbon Isaboke is the first to graduate in his family and will go on to study at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Photo: Courtesy of Nick Romanenko

"Dr. Khan became a mentor for me. I didn't know which classes to take or which resources to utilize, or how to get involved with networking opportunities, and he helped me with all of this and showed me my dreams were possible.” - Hesbon Isaboke

Hesbon Isaboke, the son of Kenyan farmers, will become the first member of his family to graduate college this month and is working toward a career in medicine, a goal that seemed unimaginable growing up.

Isaboke was 11 when his family emigrated to the United States. His mother, who passed away from cancer shortly after he entered his junior year of high school, wanted him to get an education to open up new opportunities.

“I knew my parents would have to work on lower-end jobs to begin this life but my goal was to study hard in school, succeed, and eventually, upgrade my family to a dream life in this new country of opportunity,” Isaboke said. “Back in Kenya, my father had begun teaching so it was mostly up to my mother to tend on the farm and I never wanted her to do such kind of labor to provide for her family again.”

A Rutgers-led program that supports students from underrepresented groups who wish to study medicine helped him find his way as a first-generation student.

He was driven by his mother's desire that he succeed.

“When she was on her death bed I could see a woman who had worked so hard in her life to provide for her sons. She did what she had to do and she gave it her all. I want to make her proud even though she is gone,” Isaboke said.

Now, after graduating with a biological sciences degree from Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences, Isaboke will attend Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He credits the help he received from the SAS’s Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences (ODASIS) and its Access Med program with helping him realize his academic potential.

He started working with the program at the beginning of  his time at Rutgers when he met Kamal Khan, ODASIS director, at new student orientation.

“Dr. Khan became a mentor for me. I didn't know which classes to take or which resources to utilize, or how to get involved with networking opportunities, and he helped me with all of this and showed me my dreams were possible,” Isaboke said.

He met developmental specialists through ODASIS who helped him make a four-year academic plan that focused on which classes to take to make sure he met all his academic requirements.

ODASIS works to increase the recruitment and academic success of underrepresented and disadvantaged students who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.  Access Med, offered through a partnership between Rutgers University, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Seton Hall University, serves as a pipeline to medical school by providing undergraduate students with academic enrichment, support and advising undergraduates.

“Hesbon is one of the most dedicated students in ODASIS. He is very understanding of others needs and shows great promise as a future doctor,” Khan said. “He is like the Pied Piper in that his peers listen to him and follow his lead. I am honored to help him reach his goal of becoming a doctor.”

Isaboke said he wants to set an example for his cousins and his siblings, to help them see that no dream is impossible.

“I want them to know we can all do it, and our disadvantages don’t have to work against us,” he said.