Date September 22, 2022
Media Contact

Elhadj Barry: A childhood struggle for equitable health care drives ambitious goals

A transfer student from Bronx Community College, Elhadj Barry is drawing on a lifelong love of learning as he explores Brown’s Open Curriculum with the goal of impacting health care infrastructure in Guinea, where he was born.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Ever since Elhadj Barry injured his leg as a young child, he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. 

His small village in the West African country of Guinea lacked health care infrastructure. Barry’s mother helped treat his injury, but it eventually worsened to the point where he had to travel to the capital, Conakry, to seek proper medical care.

“Since then — and I was very little — I had decided I want to change the health care system in my community, in the village where I was born, and the entire country,” he said. “It’s always been my primary goal.” 

As a transfer student from Bronx Community College now enrolled in his first semester at Brown through the Resumed Undergraduate Education program, Barry, 28, hopes to harness his lifelong love of learning to do just that. 

“[My parents] told me that they regret that they didn’t get the chance to go to school,” he said. “They always encouraged me to go to school, never give up and always learn, learn, learn.”

Barry is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. His village had no school, but his family’s dedication to education was unwavering, and they concentrated their efforts on Barry’s academic future and supported him throughout his studies in Guinea. Seeking more opportunities, Barry’s uncle entered an immigration process for his family to join him in the U.S.

“ Brown really fosters the intellectual aspect of learning — the Open Curriculum gives us a chance to seek, learn, investigate and explore. I really want to take advantage of that and get involved as much as I can to benefit both myself and the community around me. ”

Elhadj Barry Brown University Undergraduate student

It took years, but Barry was finally granted a visa, and in 2018, he joined his uncle in New York. But in his schools in Guinea, students studied in French, not English, so he began his journey to learn an entirely new language.

In the fall of 2019, less than a year after arriving, Barry enrolled at Bronx Community College to study biology. One semester had barely passed when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down New York City — and eventually, much of the world — and threatened to halt his academic momentum. It was hard work, especially for a student just beginning to navigate the U.S. education system, but Barry said his family and his courage guided him throughout virtual instruction, along with the support of BCC-CUNY (City University of New York). He excelled and graduated with an associate degree in the spring of 2022.  

“It gave me a sense of perseverance,” he said. “If you have some sort of goal or objective in your life, don’t give up. Always try to work hard through any challenges.”

From the Bronx to Brown 

Barry knew he wanted to continue his education past the associate degree level, but without formal guidance, he wasn’t sure what to do next. The picture started to become clearer after learning about the Kaplan Educational Foundation from a friend at school.

He applied to the Kaplan Leadership Program, which supports high-achieving and underserved associate degree students and helps them transfer to and complete bachelor’s degree programs at top colleges and universities nationwide. In addition to financial aid and direct scholarships, Kaplan Leadership Scholars receive academic advising and transfer admissions support, leadership training, individualized mentoring and counseling, and a comprehensive array of skills development opportunities. 

When he was accepted to join this year’s cohort of scholars, Barry said he knew his life was about to change. He wasn’t just receiving the material support necessary to pursue a degree — he was gaining a new mindset. 

“Kaplan Educational Foundation helped me believe in myself — that, yes, I too can do better and deserve to attend a great institution,” Barry said. “Every time I remember what they taught me, I am so grateful. They really helped me to take pride in myself and get excited about my own potential.”   

His Kaplan academic advisors encouraged him to apply to some of the most prestigious programs in the country, which intimidated him at first.

“In the community I come from, going to the top universities is just for the most privileged,” he said. “Regular people in the village don’t go to the Ivy League. I wanted to break down that barrier and bridge that gap.”

He landed acceptances to several schools, but he chose Brown. Barry says that for someone like him, who has specific career goals but doesn’t want to restrict what he’s able to study, it was an ideal choice.

“Brown really fosters the intellectual aspect of learning — the Open Curriculum gives us a chance to seek, learn, investigate and explore,” he said. “I really want to take advantage of that and get involved as much as I can to benefit both myself and the community around me.” 

Barry said that combining public health and computer science in his studies may be the best first step toward returning to Guinea and helping to build the health care infrastructure he’s always envisioned. During his time at Brown, he wants to continue pushing his intellectual boundaries. He packed his first-semester schedule with courses focused on entrepreneurship, engineering, computer science and persuasive communication. 

He’s certain that his curiosity will continue to motivate him throughout the next few years as he explores new fields of study and immerses himself in some of his favorite outside-the-classroom endeavors, like soccer. And while he remains laser-focused on what lies ahead, Barry said it’s important to take time to reflect on his trajectory thus far. 

“I think about the journey I went through, the experiences I had being a non-traditional student,” he said. “And today, I’m attending Brown University. It’s a big dream that has been achieved.”