Palestinian CSU alumnus reflects on her college years

Mays and Sohaela Turabi. Photo Credit: Mays Turabi

A wife, mother, and full-time student–or should I say, the ultimate triple threat.

No one is more powerful than a woman who’s caring for her family and working for a degree simultaneously. Who wakes up before the sun rises every morning just to find the peace and quiet to finish her assignments before her motherly duties consume practically the rest of her day.

When she manages to make her way to campus after a 25-minute commute–one that is constantly unpredictable in terms of traffic, construction, or whatever pedestrian decides to totally block the way, unprompted—the curriculum would prove unshakably rigorous.

Not necessarily because of the material, but because of the language. Although she’s incredibly fluent at this point, with both English and the lifestyle, it doesn’t always make things any easier. From the daunting projects to the high-stake interviews to the unfamiliar culture, there was a lot to adjust to.

Adversity aside, these years end up being the most enjoyable of her life.

Meet Sohaela Turabi, a Cleveland State University alumnus who graduated with a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design in the winter of 2016. Both as a student and graduate, Turabi worked for CSU as a designer, crafting designs for different classes and programs.

Five years later, as she watches her oldest child navigate university life for the first time, Turabi looks back on her college days when she would wake up bright and early to walk the same campus her daughter does today.

“When I came to America, I started at Tri-C, and I was doing most of my major-based classes online. My major was Visual Communication Design,” she said in an interview with The Cauldron. “When I found out there was Graphic Design at CSU, I was so happy. The minute I learned they had it, I transferred there.”

She touched on the immigrant experience and how it was common for people at the time who came to America from overseas to begin their educational experience at community college as a way to ease into the language and culture.

However, it wasn’t long after obtaining her associate’s degree in Visual Communication Design at Tri-C when Turabi transferred her credits to the beautiful Cleveland State campus and took on the exciting challenge of university life.

There is quite an emphasis on challenge, as expressed by the CSU alumnus.

“The time I transferred from Tri-C to CSU, I was so busy. I think that’s the time when my family came from overseas, and I did not have time, seriously, to do my work at home because I had my family, my kids, my house.”

Not only was she juggling the duties of motherhood and her coursework, but she also faced a unique challenge of interacting with her instructors and peers. There was a baseless judgment often made by others around her that people who attend community college aren’t as strong as those who attend university right away—because of this, finding her place was difficult right from the get-go.

But it didn’t stop there.

“I remember in my last class, when I had to present my portfolio, I had some trouble with my English because everyone was looking, and I just blanked out for a moment,” Turabi said. “ [Her instructor at the time] interrupted my presentation and made some comment saying that a lot of students take advantage of their charm during presentations.”

While the teacher meant no harm, Turabi couldn’t help but feel displeased at the time. 

“Yeah, I hated it at the moment. I told her that I used to do a lot of public speaking overseas, in all kinds of events. But English is not my first language.”

After four years of unmatchable diligence, growth, and experience, Turabi walked the stage at her college graduation in the winter of 2016, while her entire family cheered for her in the audience, including her children—the youngest of which was three years old.

Despite all the change and hardship imposed on her, Turabi was happy to spend four years doing what she loved the most: Graphic Design. 

“It was the most fun time in my life. It was a very happy atmosphere.”

Being a CSU student wasn’t all for her. In her final academic year, she applied for a job at Cleveland State Recreational services as a designer. Despite the lack of experience on her resumé, the creative coordinator at the time saw a lot of potential and hired her.

“I was so blessed that they gave me the opportunity to work there,” she said. “I was hired when a lot of my classmates also applied for it.”

Her first published piece for Recreational Services was a piece called The Hiring Hot Card, which was a flyer trying to get CSU students to work on campus. Throughout her experience working this job, she took the lead on many design pieces, particularly for the Aquatic program.

Upon being asked what her favorite design of hers from college was, one came to mind in a heartbeat:

“It was a design I made for Pink Gloves, which is a female-focused boxing program at CSU. I also came up with the slogan at the time, which was ‘Be Your Own Hero.’ And we put it in a social media campaign, which was cool.”

Photo Credit: Sohaela Turabi

The CSU alumnus didn’t always believe that Graphic Design was her destiny; her time at Cleveland State changed that instantly.

Six years later, Turabi now works remotely as a designer for a Tele-Medicine company called “Shafi Global Health.” Since graduating, she’s built up her portfolio and design experience to great heights.

Cleveland State University shaped Turabi both as an individual and designer, and though none of it came easy, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

When asked to offer any advice to Graphic Design students out there, she pushed a strong message:

“Be aggressive. If you want to do graphic design, don’t hold yourself back. Because anyone can design. Anyone can go online and design with templates that are already made for them,” Turabi told The Cauldron. If you want to do graphic design, you have to widen your skill and try other forms of design next to it, like photography, web design, writing. Combine different things and expand your art skills. There’s no limit.”

Author: Mays Turabi

Avid writer, coffee-drinker, art lover. Oh, and Editor-in-Chief for The Cauldron.