Jašarević forges connections as first-generation college student
- Mary Bidwell
- Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
At the age of two, Elma Jašarević, a graduating senior from Bowling Green, moved to the United States with her parents due to the Bosnian Genocide. As early as middle school, she knew she wanted to become a criminal prosecutor. Pursuing that aspiration, Jašarević chose to major in Criminology and Political Science.
"The reason I chose to go into law is that I want to help stop things like that from ever occurring again,” Jašarević expressed. “A lot of people have the same goal and vision - I'm just trying to do my part to help."
While looking for options to pursue her future career, Jašarević fell in love with WKU and the opportunity it presented while on a campus tour.
"I could stay here in my hometown, which I love, and I can also get a degree in my field," Jašarević said.
Additionally, Jašarević was excited to join a program with a smaller student-teacher ratio and more opportunities to get to know her professors and peers. Throughout her college career, Jašarević has felt the impact of that supportive network – especially as a first-generation college student.
"I had so many unique experiences that people who weren't first-generation wouldn't have. I didn't have a person in my family I could go to with questions, so it was a process of trial and error," Jašarević said.
However, Jašarević did not face those experiences alone. Thanks to her classmates and WKU faculty and staff members, she found a helping hand at every turn. In her first days on campus, she collaborated with a fellow first-generation college student to map out the best routes to their fall semester classes and notes on important campus buildings.
Jašarević also developed strong friendships and connections in her classes and as a peer mentor for the Department of Sociology and Criminology. Through her studies, she met a wide variety of individuals - but the most unforgettable memory came from her penology class, which discussed prison management and the treatment of offenders.
"One of my favorite memories at WKU is meeting two of my best friends as part of a group project. Ever since that project, we have been great friends and had fantastic study sessions. Even though they are off doing different things now - Austin is in the United States Army and Melanie is a social worker - we are still connected," Jašarević said.
In addition to making personal connections, Jašarević helped facilitate networking and learning about career opportunities for a wider group of classmates. By serving as a peer mentor for the Department of Sociology and Criminology, she aided in coordinating a wide variety of outreach efforts, such as a freshman welcome event, a Women in Justice panel, and a peer mentor takeover on the department's Instagram account.
"We had over 20 speakers come to the Women in Justice panel. It was so awesome seeing all of these women in different positions coming to speak to us, share their perspectives, and how they reached their positions," Jašarević said.
Most recently, Jašarević helped organize a Federal Law Enforcement Panel, featuring panelists from the U.S. Marshals, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, and more. She worked closely with Dr. Holli Drummond, Head of the Sociology and Criminology Department, and Penny Bowles, Deputy Chief – Support Services Bureau for the Bowling Green Police Department, to contact the speakers. Through her efforts, Jašarević helped facilitate opportunities for her peers to network, speak with professionals in the field, and meet new friends.
Reflecting on her journey, Jašarević noted how WKU has helped her find herself, both personally and professionally.
"I used to be a very shy person – meeting people, having classes, being a peer mentor, all of those things helped me get out of my shell. I will always be thankful to WKU for that," Jašarević said.
Jašarević noted that numerous faculty and staff members positively shaped her WKU experience and offered unique connections to the local community.
"All of our professors are so passionate about what they do - it makes me know that I'm picking the right degree for me. They reassure me that this is what I want to do, that this is the profession I want," Jašarević said.
In addition to the supportive, tight-knit network, Jašarević noted the value of applied learning and community connections in her classes.
"I love that WKU has adjunct professors - such as Deputy Chief Penny Bowles and Instructor Tambra Steelman - who are actually in the field. It really helps give you a different perspective, and they have so many connections," Jašarević said.
Jašarević knows the power of networking firsthand, through her position at the Commonwealth Attorney's Office for the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Aided by a coworker at her part-time job who also worked for the Kentucky State Police, Jašarević gained an internship at the Commonwealth Attorney's Office. She later advanced to a position as a runner in the office, giving her firsthand experience in her field. Together, Jašarević's majors and practical experience gave her valuable insight into her future career.
"I want to learn why our world works the way it does. Through my courses, I can learn why people do the things they do and gain a better understanding of other people," Jašarević said.
Looking back, Jašarević expressed her gratitude for all of the individuals who helped her along the way - most notably, her family.
"Coming from a family of immigrants who moved across the ocean to give me a better life, I always had standards I held myself up to. My parents pushed me to be the best person I can be - telling me that I am smart, I am more than capable, and I have got this. I owe all my success to them," Jašarević said.
After graduation, Jašarević plans to pursue the next steps toward becoming a criminal prosecutor – studying for the LSAT examination and seeking admission to law school.
"I know I can do this. It is now up to me to get that better life," Jašarević said.
For more information about earning a degree in Sociology and Criminology, visit https://www.wku.edu/sociology-criminology/.
For more information about earning a degree in Political Science, visit https://www.wku.edu/political-science/.
#WKUGrad series: As part of our #WKUGrad series, articles on graduating students are shared in the weeks leading up to Commencement. See all of their stories at https://www.wku.edu/news/articles/index.php?view=default&categoryid=799&multinewsid=187.