Headshot of Terwase

A Return to AU Marks a New Beginning

A lot can change over nine years. But for Terwase Tor-Agbidye, SIS/BA ’23, the desire to complete her degree from American University remained constant.

“It has long been my dream,” says Tor-Agbidye, “to return to American University and obtain my bachelor's degree.”

Tor-Agbidye grew up in New Jersey and originally attended AU from 2011 to 2014 when she had to withdraw due to financial circumstances. It was a difficult choice, but she knew her journey would one day lead her back to 4400 Massachusetts Ave.

This past Spring 2023 semester marked that milestone. When Tor-Agbidye stepped onto campus, she felt waves of emotion as she processed the moment.

“It’s a bit surreal,” says Tor-Agbidye about the experience being back. Many aspects of campus feel familiar. But she also appreciates new dynamics of academic life, such as the flexibility of digital platforms for professors to hold virtual classes. And she’s excited by campus spaces like the Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building, which opened in 2017.

The student experience has felt like a homecoming for Tor-Agbidye. “[It’s] sort of like muscle memory,” she says. “I'm back in class and able to have that learning experience again. It's what I wanted for so long, so I’m happy to be back.”

Tor-Agbidye is a student in the School of International Service (SIS). After she completes her degree in International Studies in December 2023, she plans to pursue a graduate program and move into the international development sector, ideally at the United Nations. She wants to use her career to advance equity-informed praxes. One example—the unjust burden of climate change borne by the Global South—has led her to study sustainable infrastructure efforts in Western Africa.

“I always wanted to work in a career that had meaning for me and would give me an opportunity to give back in any way I could,” explains Tor-Agbidye. “We always say that one person can’t change the world, but we can all do a small part.

The reasons that drew Tor-Agbidye to SIS in 2011 apply now more than ever. Small class sizes and an international student body foster essential dialogues. A top-10 school of international affairs, SIS connects Tor-Agbidye to professors who not only are respected experts in international development, but who are actively shaping the policies that lead the field forward.

“I think what's unique about [SIS] is that there are so many options being in Washington, DC,” says Tor-Agbidye. “And then also the different professional relationships that professors have already, the connections that they have to these institutions. It does very much have this feeling that you’re already a part of this bigger international family just by being at AU.”

As Tor-Agbidye prepares to join the ranks of SIS’s 25,000 alumni worldwide later this year, she says she has “a new appreciation” for the Eagle community. Beginning with AU’s transfer admissions team whose guidance “cemented” her decision to return, her experience has been one of support and belonging.

The most resounding message of welcome has come in the form of a scholarship. The Newcombe-Oxfeld Scholarship Endowment has enabled Tor-Agbidye to pick up where she left off and go all the way to graduation.

“Because of [scholarship support], I’m able to choose the first step that I always wanted—to finish my undergraduate degree—and it’s empowering me to be able to do that.” Tor-Agbidye continues, “The sky’s the limit. This is just the first thing I need to cross off my list to be able to continue to grow professionally and in my field.”

Returning students like Tor-Agbidye enrich the AU community with their perspectives and lived experiences. Scholarships are tangible ways to recognize these changemakers—to reciprocate the commitment they’ve shown in once again choosing AU. And through the new Elevate Scholarship Initiative, part of the Change Can’t Wait campaign, AU takes this commitment further by helping to mitigate financial factors that force students to withdraw in the first place.

The initiative is raising $25 million in endowed unrestricted scholarship funds to support enrolled undergraduate students. The university will match this philanthropic support with an additional $25 million. These scholarship funds will help alleviate unexpected financial strains, directly supporting students at risk of dropping out. “The Elevate Scholarship Initiative is an example of our commitment to our students and our mission,” explains American University president Sylvia M. Burwell.

It was never Tor-Agbidye’s plan to pause her studies in 2014. Now, re-enrolled and on track, Tor-Agbidye is preparing to complete this chapter of her story. As she reflects on her AU journey, she finds personal echoes in the Change Can’t Wait campaign’s reach.

“Change Can’t Wait is quite literal,” she says. “It’s not just a slogan—it’s a format that is being followed. And it’s this idea of increasing the accessibility of AU and really tapping into the potential of students who may have been deterred by the cost or whose families would love the opportunity for their child to attend but who just don’t know how they’ll be able to make it happen.”

Tor-Agbidye deeply values the message of the campaign, especially the Elevate Scholarship Initiative. In her words: “To be able to say to those students: ‘We still value you, you belong here, and we’re going to do everything within our power to make sure you’re here,’ is really impactful.”

With her tenacious spirit and vision for a more equitable world, Tor-Agbidye is a changemaker on the rise. And come next December, she’ll find another message of welcome—this time from the American University Alumni Association.

To learn more and support the Elevate Scholarship Initiative, visit the Elevate Scholarship Initiative web page.