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Lifting up Oakland's Next Generation
Leila Abu-Hijleh '08, MA '15
Leila Abu-Hijeh-Duncan standing in front of river

Leila Abu-hijleh ’08, MA ’15 believes that helping Oakland youth rise up and reach their potential is her life’s calling.

As associate director of HNU’s Upward Bound program, Abu-hijleh sees herself in the students she helps. “The youth in the program come from low-income families,” she explained. “Their parents didn’t go to college. As a first-generation college graduate, I can really relate to them. And they respond to that. We come from a similar place.”

HNU’s Upward Bound program serves over 200 youth aged 13-19 each year. The program, funded by the Department of Education, helps Oakland area students by providing academic, counseling, and tutoring services. Plus, students get to spend six weeks on HNU’s campus in the summer immersed in college life: cafeteria food, dorms, and all.

In the past 10 years, over 95% of the program’s graduating seniors went on to colleges or universities of their choice. “I started working in the Upward Bound program as a tutor when I was an undergraduate at HNU,” said Abu-hijleh. “Seeing the impact the program has on the lives of these students helped me find my purpose, and the Sisters’ mentorship taught me the value of a life of service.”

After graduating with a degree in liberal arts, Abu-hijleh was hired on as a program administrative assistant. From there, she steadily increased her responsibilities until she was named associate director two years ago. Along the way, she found time to graduate with two master’s degrees (counseling and forensic psychology) from Holy Names, marry a musician, and have a baby.

She emphasized, “I’ve been working here long enough to see students come up through Upward Bound, enroll at Holy Names, get a job as a tutor in the program, and then graduate. Being able to see that full-cycle success first-hand makes my job all the more fulfilling.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of HNU Today.