June 13, 2024
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First-gen psychology major discovers community and career path at Binghamton

For Nashaan Howard, stepping out of his comfort zone led to opportunities and a fulfilling college career.

Nashaan Howard Nashaan Howard
Nashaan Howard Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

When psychology major Nashaan Howard was in high school researching options for college, he had specific requirements in mind: the school should have diversity, offer a sound financial aid package, be within driving distance of his Schenectady, N.Y., home and be highly rated when it came to dining services.

“I wanted to attend a school that offered an interesting variety of food,” said Howard.

Although initially interested in attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., an underwhelming financial aid package from Howard motivated him to look in a new direction. When his high school guidance counselor brought him to visit Binghamton University, he knew he was in the right place.

“I kind of fell in love with the campus,” Howard said. “It felt modern but also homey in a way. We came in the spring, and people were outside studying and hanging out — everyone was so nice and open. It looked like a place that I would want to be.”

Howard is a first-generation student who is a role model for his younger twin-sister siblings, who are currently 16 and beginning to think about their higher education options. Although his father strongly supported his pursuit of higher education, Howard was also self-motivated, including participating in his high school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program — an internationally recognized curriculum for ambitious learners.

“Both of my parents earned GEDs, but my father, especially, encouraged me to go to college,” said Howard. “However, I think both my parents knew I had potential. For the most part, I always got good grades, and in high school, I recognized what I needed to do to help prepare me for college. And I think my younger siblings will benefit from that.”

Finding career

Howard excelled in the natural sciences in high school and anticipated a career in medicine. However, an Introduction to Psychology class during his senior year would eventually influence his college and career trajectory.

He arrived on campus as a biology major, and when making his first-year schedule, he found himself hesitating on signing up for a suggested chemistry course.

“I was strongly encouraged to take a chemistry class but resisted. Something told me to take a behavioral disorders class instead, and I found the content really interesting,” Howard said. “I also discovered I liked the humanities courses I was taking, and I liked science, so psychology felt like a good compromise.”

This semester, Howard has been working in the Binghamton Human Sexualities Lab, where he is involved with a book project on the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, one of the first HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations. The book is co-authored by Sean Massey, associate professor in women, gender and sexuality studies, and Julia Haagar, MA ’15, PhD ’22, assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University, with contributions by Binghamton University students Casey Adrian ’22, MSW ’24 and Eden Lowinger ’23. Howard is helping conduct oral histories and review transcripts and other documents from the organization’s height in the mid-1980s.

Finding community

Howard has been an e-board member of the student organization SHADES since the fall of his second year, first serving as group historian. After becoming more involved in event planning with the organization — including their annual Vogue Ball and Sex Carnival — he accepted a new role as public relations officer, where he has been actively building their social media presence.

His work with SHADES eventually led to his involvement with the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s Q Center.

“With SHADES, I liked being involved in creating safe spaces for Queer POC [people of color], and when I saw the Q Center was hiring, I realized I could expand on that work, but in a more educational and professional capacity,” he said.

Howard admits that once he set his mind on the job, he was determined to get it.

“I really wanted to get in at the Q Center,” Howard said. “I ended up applying for two jobs, attended the job fair and followed up with a bunch of emails. I knew the Q Center would be a good fit for me.”

Howard was selected from more than 100 candidates and came to his interview prepared with ideas of what he wanted to do. Ultimately, he was hired as a Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) educator and a student manager. SOGIE educators are student facilitators for LGBTQ+-oriented workshops and presentations that deal with issues including vocabulary, safe practices and how to be an ally. Howard also created his own programming, including a “hook up safety” event and another centered around the intersection of LGBTQ+ culture and religion. He has also served on panels addressing LGBTQ+ students at SUNY Broome Community College and Whitney Point High School gay-straight alliance members.

“Nashaan has been an invaluable member of the Q Center team, serving as both a SOGIE educator and a student manager for this past year,” said Nick Martin, associate director of the Q Center. “He has actively created space in the Q Center for queer and trans people of color and served as a liaison between the Q Center and SHADES, which has helped us to provide funding and support for their signature events and better contribute to their general body members.”

Howard is also proud to share that he made Dean’s List for the first time in fall 2023 and recently earned a mental health crisis certification, learning crisis intervention and reporting techniques.

“Mental health is something I am really focused on, and I thought it would be a really helpful tool for my career,” he said.

One of the themes Howard returns to is how stepping out of his comfort zone has helped him discover new opportunities. It’s how he met his best friend and became involved with SHADES. More recently, it’s how he met Kimberly Peabody, director of health promotion and prevention services, who has become a mentor as Howard navigates his post-college options.

“I attended a mixer at the MRC and started talking with Dr. Peabody. We just hit it off really well, and since then, we have met weekly. She has been really helpful in figuring things out and managing my after-college anxiety,” he said.

Although Howard is looking at a gap year, his plans include attending graduate school for counseling at the University at Albany.

“Nashaan has demonstrated his dedication to excellence, and it’s been a joy watching him pursue his desire to gain professional experience and prepare to attend graduate school,” Peabody said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next for him.”

When asked what advice he would give incoming students, Howard said, “Seek out opportunities and don’t be afraid to try different things. You might not know if you like something until you try it. Most importantly, find your community. College can be stressful, but finding others going through the same experience is helpful. It takes some effort, but putting yourself out there is really important.”

Posted in: Campus News, Harpur