In order for Kulsoom Ali to explain why she created a scholarship for University of Houston students, she has to go back to 2016, when she was nearing high school graduation.
"As excited as I was to experience college," she said, "I honestly didn't know how I'd pay for it. I was trying to talk myself down. I'd applied for the Tier One scholarship, but I knew there were so many good students out there. I thought, 'What's going to stand out about my story?'"
But then, one day, something came in the mail for her. She opened it, and it said, "Congratulations! You're a Tier One scholar!" That very day, in early 2016, Kulsoom saw that someone took a chance on her, and she told herself that as soon as she could, she was going to make sure somebody else got to feel the way she did.
Kulsoom kept her word. She graduated in May of 2020 and created the scholarship in 2021. "I'm young, and I'm not super established, but I started a scholarship as soon as I could. This is why I got here: so I could make sure somebody else got this experience too."
What she loved about her experience at U of H was the level of diversity. She graduated with a degree in Computer Information Systems, a male-dominated field, but at UH, she was proud to see other women in her classes.
We've been discounted in the past. Now we're one of the biggest schools in the state. I took that underdog spirit with me. You're going to underestimate me? Just watch.
She noticed that there wasn't much Muslim hijabi representation, though. While other people may feel nervous at being the only person who looks like them in the room, Kulsoom asserted that this "fuels [her] fire."
She cited the university as inspiring this attitude. "UH embodies that as a spirit. We've been discounted in the past. Now we're one of the biggest schools in the state. I took that underdog spirit with me. You're going to underestimate me? Just watch."
She named the scholarship in honor of one of the Muslim religious figures she holds near and dear to her: Imam Ali (as). "I'm trying to be someone who inspires and does good in their community. The scholarship is for anyone who echoes what I value: education andgiving back to their community."
She encouraged others to give back, even if they think it's impossible. "Before you've done it, establishing a scholarship seems unachievable or impossible, but, take it from me, it is very much possible," she said. "As someone who has received a scholarship, I can promise you that you don't know the level of relief and happiness the student is going to feel when they receive this."