With a Jamaican college degree in accounting, and wanting better opportunities for her only child, Kareem Douglas’s mom sent him to New York City to live with his father, a postal worker, to complete the last year of high school. After several months of typical father-son adjustment issues, Kareem moved again, this time with grandparents in Connecticut. Having spent his life enjoying the Jamaican beaches, and taking life as it comes (not studying much); Kareem was completely unprepared for the next stage of his life: admission to college.
Miraculously, Kareem’s godmother entered his life and changed his odds of success for all time. An old friend of his mom who knew the ropes insisted on exposing him to the frenzied world of college fairs. Arranging visits and accompanying him everywhere, she asked recruiters all the important questions a fairy-godmother knows to ask. Discovering the CUNY Honors College, she took little time and no hesitation to manage the application process, and soon the two grandly celebrated his selection into Honors Chemistry at CCNY.
Like many new students early on, Kareem was unsure of the major he had chosen. “To outsiders I seem like a shy guy, but I had the habit of talking to people, mostly engineers I met during the CCAPP program. Luckily, the people I met were hard-working, and that motivated me. And those friends I made in freshman year were the reason I transferred from chemistry to chemical engineering. Knowing I might never get a second chance to make the right choice, I entered the Grove School of Engineering resolved to give up my laid-back approach. It was definitely a matter of resolve.”
Now on his way to a master’s at MIT, Kareem is amazed at his personal trajectory. “In all of this, the biggest surprise for me is that I’m finishing college at all. Before, I knew nothing of the field of chemical engineering. So the challenge of selecting chemistry or even engineering was difficult and a bit frustrating. So many times I thought of quitting to join the Navy. But when I thought about what the recruiters were telling me – that I could finish college later – I knew it wasn’t really true. I felt as if this was my one chance to make it, and it might never come again. I also remembered back to high school, and how when I faced the problem of deciding between physics and geography, I didn’t choose physics because I knew it would be harder. This time I didn’t want to take the easy route. And I’m happy about my choice because chemical engineering definitely pushed me to my limits”.
Kareem also reveals that Professor Ilona Kretzschmar, his academic advisor, is also his favorite teacher. “She inspired me to reach the top of my field because, from there, I can make a wider impact on society. Another influential person has been Professor John, my organic chemistry instructor, who invited me to conduct research in my sophomore and junior years. What made him important to me is that he has always been there with useful advice in times of trouble.”
During his early years at City, Kareem has been a member of the Honors Student Advisor Council (HSAC), and as vice president for community service, he collaborated with NYCARES Day to manage clean-ups in parks and schools, sending holiday cards to the elderly, and organizing its famous coat drive. Honors Center advisor, Lee Linde, says of Kareem, “ He’s unassuming, so you’ll never see him in a crowd. But he’s always there, making it work.” Yes he is.