Hearst Scholar triumphs over tragedy, holds on to dream

Betesaida (Betty) Abraham never let the disadvantages and despair she faced growing up interfere with her dream to become a doctor and researcher. The native of Ethiopia, who came to the U.S. at age 12 without any formal schooling, is now a top student in cell and molecular biology and is SF State’s 2011 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award winner.

A photo of Betty Abraham

Betesaida (Betty) Abraham, 2011 Hearst Scholar

Though Abraham's father was able to immigrate to the U.S., he struggled for more than a decade to arrange the same for his wife and two daughters. 

Once Abraham arrived in the U.S., she was placed in Sacramento middle-school classrooms, where she quickly progressed.

Abraham eventually made it to advanced English, but endured the embarrassment of poor grades for several semesters before her habit of studying all night paid off. As graduation approached, she received assistance from teachers to apply for college and financial aid. She graduated in the top tenth of her high school class.

Once at SF State, faculty encouraged Abraham to apply for a place in the prestigious Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Abraham credits the faculty and the friends she made at SF State for helping her to gain the confidence she needed to set her sights on a dual MD/Ph.D. degree.

"One can easily pick out several points in Betty's life where it would have been understandable for her to give up on life, let alone pursue a dream," said Professor of Biochemistry Teaster Baird Jr., who nominated Abraham for the Hearst/CSU Award. "I do not know that I would have been able to persevere through her circumstances. Yet, she has come through the fire to not only survive, but to excel."

Now in her senior year, Abraham is president of SF State's chapter of Global Medical Brigades, which has given her the opportunity to help set up free medical clinics and a school in remote parts of Honduras.

"If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that proper healthcare is a basic human right," she said.

The annual William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement is given to one student from each CSU campus who demonstrates financial need and personal hardships, and has such attributes as superior academic performance, exemplary community service and significant personal achievements.

-- Denize Springer

Revised Aug. 15, 2014