When she was born in Nigeria, Prisca Diala ’18 didn’t cry, her doctors were perplexed and her mother went into a coma from the shock and fear.

Diala quickly recovered, her mother told her, but to this day many infants in her home country aren’t as fortunate. Nigeria is the second largest contributor to maternal and under-5 mortality rates in the world, she notes. Although she left Nigeria as a child, she remembers close relatives having difficult births that in some cases resulted in the infant’s death. These memories are why Diala wants to become a doctor. As a student on the pre-health path, she has also chosen to major in economics, which she says offers her a lens through which to view poverty and healthcare issues as they affect low-income women.

“Coming to my first economics class in college, I quickly learned that economics is not just about money. There’s a social component to it that is very powerful,” says Diala. “I want to use knowledge of that component to become an OB-GYN who will serve low-income and underrepresented women.”

Diala’s commitment to becoming a physician has been unwavering, even as she has explored health and medicine from various angles. This passion, together with the support she receives from the High Achievement Program (HAP), designed to support low-income and first-generation students in the sciences, as well as from the Quantitative Skills Center (QSC), have brought her dream within reach.

The youngest of four children, Diala came to the U.S. at the age of 8. Since then, she has tried to figure out where she fits in. As an immigrant, she knew she did not share the same history as her African-American peers, but as a Black child living in a new country, she was affixed with a set of labels that she had to learn to navigate. “The innocence of childhood is such that we often speak without a filter,” she recalls, “so as a consequence, elementary school children are often very mean. I was young, naïve and I could not fully grasp the weight of my new circumstances. I had left a country where I seemingly belonged and was now in a society where everything from my skin to my voice was deviant.”

Prisca Diala stands before a blurry background of Carnegie Hall.

Diala’s family was a constant source of support. Her parents, who had been professionals in Nigeria, were juggling work, school and raising four children in the neighboring city of Upland. All four children ended going to college, with the youngest two coming to Pomona.

Diala didn’t have to look far for role models. Her eldest brother is in medical school, her eldest sister is in pharmacy school and the third sibling, her sister Pamela, is a Pomona alumna, class of 2016. Before becoming a student at Pomona, Pamela was part of the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS), a program that prepares high school students from underrepresented backgrounds for college.

“I came to Pomona following her, because that’s what I’ve done all my life. Everywhere we went, she paved a path that would make life easier for me,” says Diala, who mentions that Pamela was also an economics major during her time at Pomona and is now working as a financial consultant.

“I wanted to challenge myself and the ways in which I approached my future: I think the great thing about Pomona is that it has given me the space I needed to interact with others,” she says. “I came here because I believed that a small classroom and one-on-one interaction with professors would enable me to reach higher levels of thought. This was exactly what I needed as an 18-year-old. I came here to solidify my voice—and whilst that is an ongoing process, the last three plus years have enabled me to better articulate my thoughts.”

Yet, it hasn’t always been easy at Pomona, says Diala. “It’s hard coming into college with limited scientific knowledge and being surrounded by other students who seemed to immediately understand concepts. It begins to reinforce feelings of not belonging that are absolutely untrue.”

Diala received the support she needed to help find her place in the pre-health track and economics from her HAP cohort group and the Quantitative Skills Center. “Being surrounded by nine other people in my cohort group, with the support of Professor Cynthia Selassie and [QSC Director] Travis Brown affirming to us that we do belong in those spaces, really motivated me to continue on this path.”

An economics tutor working at the QSC this year, Diala has used the center’s resources for a long time. “Whether it’s confiding in or crying to the staff or just being in the physical space, the center has been instrumental to my success at Pomona.”

With graduation just around the corner, Diala is planning her next move, and applying to medical school is on the horizon.

She admits that the thought of applying to dozens of schools is causing some stress but her parents are easing some of that: “Just hearing them say, ‘Breathe, we will never be disappointed in you,’ is the biggest gift and blessing they’ve given me.”