HCC alum fondly remembered

July 6, 2012

Rahman Strum in Madagascar.Rahman Strum

Rahman Strum wanted to make a difference in the world.

At HCC, he made a difference through student government and student activities, by encouraging struggling colleagues to stay in school, by attending to his own studies, which led to an associate degree in 2002 -- and later more advanced degrees -- and by his very presence.

"His laughter and his spirit were infectious," recalled Mary Duran Ajwala, '05, a good friend of Strum's since their time at HCC. "You wanted to be around him and support whatever he was doing. There was no way you could say no to him."

Family and friends celebrated his life and said good-bye at a memorial service in East Harlem July 3. The 30-year-old died June 26th from complications suffered in a motorcycle accident in Omaha, Nebraska, where he was the executive director of the Omaha Area Health Education Center.

Ajwala attended the service in New York, along with Vivian Ostrowski, director of HCC's Gateway to College program, who got to know Strum through her work as Student Activities coordinator.

"He would stay late, do anything you asked him to do -- meet and greet, give tours, present," Ostrowski said. "He was one of those people who didn't do that well academically when he started here, but he started picking up steam toward the end. He was clearly smart. He was purpose-driven. He was charismatic. He was kind. He was ridiculous. He was delightful. People loved him. He had it all. That is the piece about Rahman that is so important: he wanted to save the world."

Strum grew up in Nebraska and after some tough teenage years moved to Springfield to live with his mother, graduating from the Springfield High School of Science and Technology in 1999.

Ajwala remembers experiencing some tough times herself as a student at HCC. She wanted to drop out, but Strum wouldn't let her. One day, when she didn't show up on campus, Strum drove to her house and parked outside, honking his horn until she came out. "He said if I wasn't in school that's what he would do every day," said Ajwala, who now lives in Hatfield and holds a masters degree in psychology and is pursuing her LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Care) certification at Bay Path College.

"He was always encouraging people to stay in school and always willing to sacrifice his time to help others in the community," she said.

After HCC, Strum moved back to Nebraska to continue his education, deciding to concentrate in public health. He earned his bachelor's degree in science education and human services from the University of Nebraska and his masters degree from the University of Nebraska's College of Public Health. He was working on his Ph.D. when he died.

At UNMC, he was known as an enthusiastic collaborator committed to getting things done. "He was devoted to improving the health of others and was always positive," Dr. Mike Sitorius, M.D., told the UNMC News. "He touched many people through his efforts to make health care accessible to all."

Strum loved fishing and hunting and golf and had started a backyard garden where he was raising chickens. He had two children, Corrina, 2, and Andre, 1.

He was actively involved in the North Omaha Community Care Council and on the board of directors of the Public Health Association of Nebraska. He was also working to improve global health. In 2010, he traveled to Madagascar as part of a group from UNC to develop a clean water supply.

Rahman Strum wanted to make a difference in the world.

Clearly, he did.

Photos: (Left) Rahman Strum, back center, in Madagascar in 2010 on a clean water project. (Right) Rahman Strum.


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040