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News Reflections on the AAP experience

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Nada Abuasi, a 2020 AAP grad, looks back on her past two years with the AAP in Wilmington
Nada Abuasi

​Nada Abuasi in Philadelphia, 2019.

Nada Abua​si received her Associate in Arts degree from the AAP in spring 2020. Beginning in fall 2020, she will be pursuing a double major in criminal justice and political science in Newark.


Almost 2 years ago, I enrolled in the Associate in Arts Program at UD, and while I was happy with my decision, I knew how differently the people around me saw me. The AA Program campus was in Wilmington, and it separated me from "Main Street UD' — the endless selections of food, the student-organization events and meetings, the career opportunities, the open mic nights, and the casual lunches with my friends of 5-plus years. 

I didn’t mind it, however. Being an outsider wasn’t too much of a problem for me. I grew to appreciate the solitude, time, and distance that allowed me to grow, flourish and understand who I was meant to be, without the projection of others’ personalities and experiences. But I saw how AAP students, including myself, were treated as second class, somehow unworthy of the same experiences that a main-campus UD student would have.

As a new AAP student, I walked into the UD Downtown Center in Wilmington with all the resentment about the program that had been fed to me prior to my first day. I was told it was a program for troubled students, students who had a history of mental health issues, who lacked work ethic, or who lacked money and resources. 

As a high school student, I had seen fellow students being told that if they didn’t get their act together, they’d be forced to attend this program. I was told that I would never be able to do XYZ, that I wouldn't learn effectively, or that my straight A’s and high GPA would be invalid and only granted due to the program's lenient professors, who were teaching courses at a lower level to accommodate a demographic of students considered to be below average. 

As I'd prepared for that first day of classes, I had still heard every now and again that the program was for high school failures, an option for reckless students to make up for lost time in former days. I considered the possibility that this may very well be true for me: Maybe my high school days were dark and lost, both academically and emotionally? Maybe I was suffering the consequences of my past decisions today? I walked in on that first day doubting myself and my true potential, yet determined to prove to everyone that I was intelligent, mentally stable, and someone who doesn’t just wait for opportunities to come knocking but ventures out to make them happen.

Nada Abuasi studying at the library.

​Studying at the library in Wilmington.

But as I made my way through that first day of classes, I realized that what I had heard about the program was false and that what I felt about myself was a feeling that about 500 other AAP students shared with me that year. What my friends, family, peers, and acquaintances hadn’t realized was that my first two years at the AAP in Wilmington offered me opportunities I could never have imagined elsewhere.

In my two years in Wilmington, I saw a side to Delaware I never knew, much less one I would come to appreciate. I met people who truly cared about others. I met professors who saw a future in me when others wouldn’t, who encouraged me to take on challenges and find myself, whether in my writing or my activism. The AA Program made me feel happy, alive. It made me feel like a college student who had control, able to make her own decisions. 

Not to mention, the program was in the city of Wilmington — one of the most alive and lit places in Delaware, contrary to popular belief. There’s the Grand Opera House, where a man regularly stands outside to delight us with his amazing vocals, right before the string of delicious multicultural restaurants. There’s the amazing and friendly New-York-style halal deli, right across from the Delaware Supreme Court, which was my favorite spot to clear my head. There's the Starbucks with the barista who always smiles and remembers my name. There's the Dunkin' that practically memorizes my coffee order. There’s the Riverfront, which holds a beautiful urban park. There’s Rodney Square, the hub of political, social, and artistic change, right by the beautiful architecture of the Wilmington Public Library, where Christian Wills, an amazing former AAP student, regularly hosts incredibly creative artistic events. There are the Community Service Buildings, like the Delaware Center for Justice, that I had the pleasure to visit and work in a few times. There’s the barbershop owned by a friendly Black family that greets me every time I pass by. There’s the YWCA, right by what some refer to as the “ghetto,” and the community garden some of our students helped revive right behind it. 

There’s the Delaware Historical Museum, right by the Cultural Arts Center and the Creative Vision Factory. There’s the beautiful mural featuring the poem "Nineteen Questions," hung up in the Creative District, which was written by creative writing students in our program. These are the jewels of Wilmington no one seems to talk about. These are the vibrant colors of the intricate city that everyone attempts to darken. And I appreciated every minute of it.


Nada Abuasi in apple orchard

On a Muslim Students' Association trip to Milburn Orchards in Elkton, Md., in fall 2019.

When I was in the AA Program, I found my passion for writing. I took every opportunity to write, so much so that Dr. de Kramer, my anthropology professor, had to send back my final paper twice because it exceeded the page limit. I was encouraged to pursue my passion for poetry by Dr. Teague, my professor and mentor, so much so that I was able to give a spoken-word performance at the annual art showcase and submit my poems, which would later be published in the Spring 2020 Train River Poetry anthology. 

I hit the road with a few friends and professors to the University of Maryland to attend the SLCE Conference, during which I bonded with my professors and new friends and learned about how I can involve myself in community activities. I was nominated for many opportunities, including peer mentoring, fellowships, work studies, internships, and even poetry performances. I’m currently involved in an independent study where I research closely the history of Wilmington and the progress of the Delaware Center for Justice since the 1920s.

See, despite popular belief, Wilmington is not just some city where the University of Delaware dumps its below-average students, as I had been told. It’s the birthplace of art, activism, politics, history, and excellence. The Associate in Arts Program is not a camp full of second-rate professors, inadequate courses, and careless students. The professors — who are organized, experienced, educated, structured, and encouraging, no matter how brutally honest their advice may be — are amazing at what they do. Their courses are planned effectively and efficiently and framed around the city of Wilmington so that we not only learn about the subject matter but also learn how it can be applied to the outside world. 

From learning the science of beekeeping at the YWCA, to anthropology at Rodney Square, to English at the Creative Vision Factory, to Criminal Justice at DCJ, the Associate in Arts Program was much more than the threatening image once presented to me. And for as long as I breathe, while I move forward, I will continue to defend its true image and purpose: No, I’m not a high school failure. No, I'm not poor or mentally unstable. No, I did not miss out on a true college experience. I got the best one I could’ve asked for, and the only thing I regret is not realizing it soon enough so that I could soak in every experience and opportunity. 

It’s sad to have had my last semester in the city cut short and to realize that my graduation ceremony from this program will probably never take place. But I stand, proudly, as an 18-year-old rising junior at UD and an Associate in Arts Program graduate.

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Nada Abuasi, a 2020 AAP graduate, looks back on her two years in Wilmington before moving on to the Newark campus.

Nada Abuasi, a 2020 AAP graduate, looks back on her two years in Wilmington before moving on to the Newark campus.

6/6/2020
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Reflections on the AAP experience
Nada Abuasi, Associate in Arts Program, graduate, University of Delaware, AAP, UD, free college. Parallel Program
  • Associate in Arts Program
  • UD Academic Center
  • 300 N. Orange St.
  • Wilmington, DE 19801
  • Phone: (302) 571-5395
  • Fax: (302) 657-5198
  • associateinarts@udel.edu