Student Spotlight: “Let Someone Else Say No”

In early spring 2021, Hosea Wah was applying to be an Elsie Hillman Honors Scholar and dealing with some serious imposter syndrome. The Elsie Hillman Honors Scholars Program pairs local high-achieving students with community organizations to develop leadership skills and aid a cause they care about. Wah, now a rising senior studying computational social science, is the first in his family to attend college, and often doubts his place in academic spheres.

“Being Black and a first-generation student, I get scared to speak up, even if I know the answer,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s hard to feel like I belong in college. I have lots of doubt, thinking I’m not deserving of this opportunity.”

Understandably so, Wah was worried about his scholarship application. Luckily, he met career consultant Carol Balk while he was participating in the RISE Mentoring Program, an initiative for underprivileged and minoritized students intended to provide them with tools to succeed in university. Wah immediately sought out Balk’s help in preparing his resumé for the scholarship application.

Wah came in with strong content and wording on his resumé, but credits Balk with improving the document’s format, consistency, organization, and grammar. 

“She definitely enabled me to complete the application much more confidently,” Wah says. “I’m actually using the same format she showed me to apply to law schools this fall. I get compliments from people about my resumé all the time.”

Balk has also expressed her belief that Wah has done, and will continue to do, meaningful work.

“She’s helped a lot with my imposter syndrome,” Wah notes. “She always reinforces that I’m an accomplished person and I do deserve these opportunities. Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else to believe it.”

Wah was able to earn a place in the Elsie Hillman Honors Scholars Program, where he worked with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, an educational entity meant to support local school districts.

“I’m really passionate about education policy and education equity, so it was a perfect match,” he adds.

One of the key experiences that opened Wah’s eyes to the inequality in the Pittsburgh school system was his participation in Jumpstart, a program that allows college students to go into local low-income preschools and help prepare the students there for kindergarten. Wah volunteered with Jumpstart for three years.

“It allowed me to see a lot of discrepancies in the K-12 education system that start as early as preschool,” Wah says.

Wah has continued to work for education equity all over the country. He was awarded the David C. Frederick Public Service Award, an award from Pitt that provides up to $6000 to a student to pursue a non-paid summer internship in public service. Wah is currently in Boston interning for Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a non-profit organization that works to alleviate racial discrepancies within Boston public schools.

“I was a little on edge after the Frederick interview because I wasn’t too confident about my performance during it. Small doubts like that are often compounded by my imposter syndrome, but I’m glad I applied for it anyway.”

Wah’s main advice for underclassmen is along those same lines: apply for everything, even if you are doubting yourself and your qualifications.

“Let someone else say no to you before you say no to yourself,” he advises. “At the end of the day, you’re going to wake up to yourself, so pursue what makes you happy.”

In the future, Wah plans to attend law school with a focus on educational policy, criminal justice reform, or civil rights law. 

“I want to be able to leverage my privilege in higher education,” he notes. “I come from a community where not many people were able to pursue a college education, so I want to use my degree to help people from similar communities to mine.” 

By Dionna Dash
Dionna Dash Nordenberg Scholar