(Photos by Caitlin Cunningham)

Hanan Sjah receives ϱ's 2024 Aquino Scholarship

The Morrissey College junior seeks a career in pastoral counseling

Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences junior Hanan Sjah, whose own experience coping with personal grief has inspired her to pursue a career in pastoral counseling, is the winner of the 2024 Boston College Benigno and Corazon Aquino Scholarship.

Sjah was presented with the award by University President William P. Leahy, S.J., at the annual Aquino Scholarship Banquet on April 26.

Annually awarded to a ϱ junior each spring, the scholarship recognizes a strong academic record, active engagement in Asian American issues, and service both on and off campus to the Asian American community.  Sjah was selected from among a highly competitive pool of applicants that also included Kristen Kim, Patrick Kim, Kevin Tang, and Chloe Wu.

April 26, 2024 -- Boston College's Aquino Scholarship banquet and presentation in McElroy Hall's Faculty Dining  Room. The keynote presentation, “Dumplings Make the World Go & Round,” was given virtually by Irene Shiang Li, co-founder of Mei Mei Dumplings and Prepshift (introduced by Jonathan Maeng, co-president elect of Asian Caucus). Hanan Sjah was the winner.
L-R: Chloe Wu; Hanan Sjah (winner); Fr. William P. Leahy, S.J.; Kevin Tang; and Kristen Kim

L-R: Chloe Wu; Hanan Sjah; University President. William P. Leahy, S.J.; Kevin Tang; and Kristen Kim.

A double major in psychology and communication from Perrysburg, Ohio, Sjah serves as a MCAS Undergraduate Advising Fellow—a team of peer mentors who offer resources, such as advice on course registration, EagleApps, extracurricular involvement opportunities, academic planning, and transitioning to college—for students throughout the academic year. She also serves on the executive board for ASiAM, ϱ’s Asian and Asian American literary art magazine, and as the Muslim Student Association secretary.

Sjah’s career journey began with pre-law, but she switched to psychology as a sophomore, with the vision of becoming a therapist.  Having endured the deaths of her parents—her mother while Sjah was in high school; her father last fall—she has more specifically focused on pastoral counseling in a clinical setting.  Next fall, she’ll begin a concentration in clinical psychology.

“I have long wondered how mental health services can be made more culturally competent and relevant for communities, and in my case the Muslim community. I have seen firsthand the demand for mental health support for adults; however, expecting therapy to be the only solution can be limiting and culturally ignorant.

“Grief informs my passion for mental health, and my exposure to illness and death contributes to my fervor for pastoral support,” she said. “As an aspiring hospital chaplain, I hope to use culture and religion to enlighten that way I support people through illness, bereavement, and crisis.”

As a member of the Southeast Asian Student Association, she was a freshman representative, and served as secretary as a sophomore. Sjah’s focus has been education and history: She coordinated an event in collaboration with students of other cultures and faiths to demonstrate the religious diversity across Asia.  

Sjah has long been involved in the Indonesian Muslim Society of America, the national religious and cultural nonprofit organization that serves the North American Indonesian Muslim community, and currently serves on its youth executive board.  Since 2019, she’s coordinated the four-day program for young adults and teens at the annual Indonesian and Malaysian Muslim Conference.

“When I’m not planning for our conference, I’m on Zoom calls year-round, tackling the questions and concerns that pertain to the intersectional identity of being Southeast Asian and Muslim,” said Sjah.  “With our Indonesian heritage, Muslim faith, and the mix of urban, suburban and rural upbringing in the United States, we’re interested in efforts ranging from combating racism to finding the best hijab-friendly prom dresses.”  

Sjah points to her first college essay—a response to the question, “What is the best way to live?”—as a defining experience: Her answer was the well-known saying of the prophet Muhammad, “Tie your camel and put your trust in Allah.”

 “It encapsulates the balance we strike between our own efforts and our faith,” she said.  “It’s no coincidence that the research I conducted and papers I wrote in courses across psychology and communication would explore the way religion and culture influence how we live.”

Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Wan Sonya Tang noted that Sjah was the Aquino Scholarship committee’s unanimous selection as this year’s winner.

“While her written application and essay were compelling, what really blew us away was her interview. She was poised and polished, but extremely humble. We loved how readily she accepted that she did not have all the answers, and that she was still learning and improving.”

Tang added that Sjah was quick to credit her own mentors such as Academic Advising Center Assistant Director Helen Ha, and how they had helped her to grow into her leadership potential.

 “We were most struck by her overwhelming positivity despite the challenges she has faced, and how she has truly tried to build and uplift the Asian Muslim community at ϱ and nationwide,” said Tang.  “She is exactly the kind of student that the Aquino Scholarship is meant to honor, and we are extremely excited to see what she does next year and where she goes after graduation.”