It was a journey of 20 years and thousands of miles for Shalonda Ibrahim-Abubaker to return to California and graduate school.
Today, she is a master of social work student at Cal State Fullerton and a 2019-20 recipient of an American Association of University Women (AAUW) career development grant. The grants are designed specifically for women who have stepped away from academic work and wish to return.
There were many paths for the 1999 UC Santa Cruz graduate who once planned to complete a doctorate in anthropology. Abubakar got married, had children and, after the death of her husband, immigrated to the country of his birth: Ghana.
“I built a house, I founded a school and started consulting work,” she explains. As a consular officer with the Netherlands Embassy in Accra, Ghana, Abubakar reviewed visa applications, conducted interviews with applicants and made recommendations for approval or refusal.
The immigration issues America sees are similar to those she saw in Ghana, she notes. “Not just with the Netherlands, but also with Germany,” says Abubaker. “Ghanaians are trying to leave Ghana and go to these countries for greener pastures.
“It’s not just an issue in Ghana but other parts of West Africa, as well,” she adds. “Nearly entire villages have been abandoned by men who have traveled abroad in order to earn a decent living. When the talented and well-educated leave, it creates a void and brain drain.”
As her daughters got close to high school age, Abubaker planned to return to California. When considering universities and programs, she applied to CSUF and San Jose State, and selected Fullerton because of its good reputation and rigor in the social work program.
“I realized I had worked for years with disadvantaged, vulnerable populations … and that all of my friends were social workers,” Abubaker says. “I figured that was what I was meant to do. Everything boiled down to social work. I had a knack for this career.
“My dissertation topic is not set in stone yet, but I would like to do something related to LGBT girls and access to mental health. LGBT girls need mental health services, because of the additive stress of homophobia puts them at risk. It is important to give adolescent LGBT girls support to come into their own and develop a solid sense of self,” explains Abubakar.
“After graduating, I will work towards becoming a licensed clinical social worker and then earn a doctorate in social work. My ultimate goal is to be a director of community mental health at an LGBT center, but I also would like to work with school districts to create safe spaces for LGBT students.
“With the AAUW grant support, I have a foundational year to explore what I want to do, and fine turn my goals,” Abubakar adds. “And CSUF has been very welcoming, very supportive.”
For more information regarding the social work program, go to the College of Health and Human Development website.