Meet Two Spectacular Columbia Dyckman Institute Scholars from Washington Heights and Inwood

Richi Barua (CC'25) and Shaheed Ashraf Thabit (CC'24) are two of this year's Dyckman Institute Scholars from Washington Heights and Inwood.

Kelly Moffitt-Hawasly
November 14, 2022

Students come to Columbia University from all over the world, but some of the students with the most interesting backstories and inspiring dreams for the future come from neighborhoods surrounding Columbia's campuses. The Dyckman Institute Fund Scholarship recognizes just that in the form of financial aid given to Columbia College and Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences students from the Washington Heights/Inwood area, home of Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Overall, last year, some 26 undergraduate students from Washington Heights and Inwood attended Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, and $1.1 million in need-based grants were provided to eligible students in this group. The Dyckman Institute provided funding for one student in each class.

This year, three of those scholars are being recognized at a Community Board 12 meeting on Tuesday, November 22 at 6:30 p.m.: Shaheed Ashraf Thabit (CC'24), Richi Barua (CC'25), and Maki Nientao (CC'26). 

In honor of their accomplishment, Neighbors recently spoke with Thabit and Barua about their experiences at Columbia and their dreams for the future. 

Shaheed Ashraf Thabit

Shaheed Ashraf Thabit (CC'24) is a junior at Columbia College who is majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and is Pre-Med. He grew up in Washington Heights, hopes to attend medical school after undergrad, and is "fascinated by the brain: how beautiful it is." That fascination motivates him to "study and study some more."

Shaheed Ashraf Thabit (CC'24)

What brought you to Columbia?

I used to always take the 1 train to high school and middle school and I would see the 116th subway stop, and the rush of people, and I'd wonder if I was in New York or not. I am a person driven by motivation and viewing Columbia from the outside. Since I was a little kid, I put that in my head: Columbia is somewhere to be. 

What have been your favorite classes so far?

There's a Columbia College required class that was a small class, so you got to interact a lot. The professor was so humble. We'd talk about books like The Bible or The Quran and he'd say "look, I'm not a master of this subject, but I know you come from different backgrounds, so feel free to jump in and discuss." I really liked that, because I could bring up my background and the knowledge I had from my family. Other students did as well and it was a very diverse classroom: different continents, ages, and years.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

My parents. When I was in high school, I went to Bronx Science, and other students would say "Oh my parents went to Harvard or Columbia or from these great schools," and when it was my turn to speak, I'd say "My mom came to the United States in the '90s from the Dominican Republic," and I was super proud of that. Knowing that life was harder for them and that they had to sacrifice a lot for us. That concept of sacrificing for the next generation, I think is amazing. 

What is your favorite spot in Washington Heights?

I really like the St. Nicholas Avenue area. You go there, you hear the music and people dancing in the street, enjoying life in a simple way. They aren't getting caught up. They're talking, laughing, speaking the language. You get to see how the simple things in life are the most important.

Any advice you'd give to high school students now looking toward college?

Take things one step at a time. Just try to get better. Eventually, you will. Believe in your potential. I wasn't always the greatest student in middle school, but I always had faith in myself. My mother would say "you're going to be valedictorian, you're going to go to Columbia, look, this is your school." And I would imagine that. Though I wasn't showing the skills at the moment, to have that vision to work at and go at it every day, that's what is important.

Richi Barua

Richi Barua (CC'25) is a sophomore Columbia College student concentrating in sociology, but with an insatiable interest in public health, especially how it intersects with immigrant communities and people of color. She grew up at the intersection of Washington Heights and Inwood, and hopes to either attend medical school or pursue a Master's of Public Health after undergrad.

Richi Barua

What brought you to Columbia?

I knew Columbia had a lot of resources that would help me study what I wanted to study. Interesting classes and research, which I wanted to get into as an undergrad. Besides that, the fact that it is close to where I live and where I grew up. I get to connect and work in my community better because I go to school nearby. There are people that come to Columbia from all over the world and I thought local representation was necessary.

What has been your favorite experience at Columbia so far?

Being able to meet an incredible group of people here and hang out with them as often as I can, especially for school-based events. I loved going to the night market with them a couple of weeks ago and experiencing the tree-lighting ceremony for the first time with them last year. It was very memorable for me.

What is your favorite spot in Washington Heights/Inwood?

My favorite spot would just be Dyckman. There are tons of restaurants, street food, and ice cream carts. There are a lot of people, music, and familiar faces. I loved hanging out there with friends after school in high school, and we would often go to Fort Tryon Park or La Marina afterwards. It is a very memorable place for me. 

Who is your greatest inspiration?

For me, my family, because I come from a Bangladeshi immigrant background and family. Seeing their hard work and resiliency over the years, I am who I am because of them. Even my interest in public health and medicine is a product of translating for them in healthcare spaces.

Any advice you'd give to high school students now looking toward college?

Don't let anyone discourage you. Keep on doing what you have to do. If you have a dream, go for it.

Columbia has a lot of resources for high school students, like the Double Discovery Center. There are also programs at NewYork-Presbyterian, like the Lang Youth Medical Program. I can suggest another program, S-PREP, that I know some of my friends have been in. It's for middle school and high school students

Exposure is the necessary first thing. Once you get inspired, seek out mentors or teachers who are willing to support you along the way. Believe in yourself, and don't listen to discouragement.

There are people that come to Columbia from all over the world and I thought local representation was necessary.

Richi Barua

Learn More

Columbia University encourages all outstanding high school seniors from Washington Heights/Inwood to apply for admission to Columbia College or the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (Columbia Engineering). There are over 300 individually named need-based scholarships available to Columbia students.

One of these, the Dyckman Institute Scholarship, assists students from Washington Heights/Inwood who would not otherwise be able to afford the full cost of attending Columbia.

Last year, 26 students from Washington Heights/Inwood received $1.1 million in need-based scholarships from Columbia College and Columbia Engineering. High school students from Washington Heights/Inwood may learn more about Columbia by contacting the Undergraduate Admissions Office at (212) 854-2522 or visiting

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