Embracing and Empowering Women to Serve Central Florida

As a French immigrant and a first-generation, low-income college student, I dared to dream of becoming Dr. Marie Gillespie. Despite the many curves in the road and thanks to organizations like the Women’s Executive Council which lit my path, I persevere. On May 5, 2012, I will be graduating Summa Cum Laude from the University of Central Florida with my Bachelors in Psychology, a minor in Criminal Justice, and a Behavioral Forensics Certificate. This fall, I will be moving to Los Angeles to begin my Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology at the University of Southern California (USC). My research will predominantly focus on developing culturally specific interventions for at-risk youth and determining treatment outcomes for juvenile delinquents enrolled in Multisystemic Therapy programs.

I was born and raised in Paris, France and brought to United States at the age of 10 by an incredible woman: my mother. Raising two children on her own and working several jobs to keep our heads above water was a constant struggle. But through her strength of character, her humor, and her hope for a better future, I am proud to call myself a scholar, a wife, and an American citizen as of last March. 

The best way I can describe my academic life is this: One semester, I realized that I was taking five classes, starting the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, teaching three workshops as Psi Chi International Honor Society president, writing my thesis, conducting two additional research studies in two counties, preparing for conferences, and deciding on chicken or fish for my wedding. It never crossed my mind that I was taking on too much. I have interned at the UCF Police Department/Victim Services working with victims of violent crimes and at a Forensic Psychology clinic working with juvenile offenders. I am currently assisting with the implementation of therapy techniques with socially anxious children at the UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic. I have published two peer-reviewed research articles in the UCF Undergraduate Research Journal on the stigmatization of the mentally ill in the court system and on women’s willingness to confront sexism in social situations.

I hope to culminate my studies into the realm public policy and implement individualized intervention programs for juvenile delinquents. I refuse to sit by our children and allow them to drift toward violence without attempting to diagnose the underlying causes of criminal flu. Your generous award allowed me to continue my studies with the hopes of preventing today’s youth from becoming tomorrow’s crime problem. Last year, my mother, the guiding light of my life and the source of my strength, passed away quite unexpectedly after a two-year battle with cervical cancer. Her strength still permeated through me and feeds my determination to make a difference. I am certain that many of you are the daughters of incredible women who have surpassed the odds to make you who you are today and I would like to thank you for giving people like me the gift of education.

Marie Sabbah


University of Central Florida

Psychology / Criminal Justice

zumbreekia Hogan


Seminole State College


Rafaela (ella) uwaibi


Rollins Collegs

International Affairs

If asked to sum this whole ordeal, I would have nothing to say except for that I am truly blessed. 

Growing up, the only thing I was interested in was the Discovery Health Channel and TLC. They would air shows like A Baby Story and Welcome Home. For some reason the engagement that I showed for those channels shocked myself. Ever since then I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an OB/GYN physician. 

During my school years I would volunteer at every elementary and preschool possible! I knew for a fact, that I wanted to be around kids. And, what better way to spend time around kids then to get a glimpse of them in the making. Just thinking about the whole process excites me! 

The opportunity that this organization gave me was not only a true blessing, but it gave me the motivation I needed. My daughter is now almost nine months and she is lively as ever! Her education is well provided and I thank the members of this organization that. Before I even applied for the scholarship, I had nothing but doubts. There was always the thought of failure in the back of my mind; maybe due to my situation or even the confidence that I seemed to have lacked. Once receiving the confirmation email, my whole outlook on life, once again, changed. I was beyond excited! I think I even called my mom and screamed for about three minutes! I was so excited. Words cannot express how honored I was to receive such acceptance. I felt as though I was just like every other beautiful woman in that room. I would soon be the future head of something. It made people admire me just as I admired the many remarkable women present that very day. I look at my daughter now and I see nothing but future happiness. 

There is NOTHING that will stop me from reaching my goals and completing the task I set aside for myself. 

I would like to say thank you for reestablishing the fact that my life is not over. In fact, it is just beginning. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful daughter to accompany me. 

Thank you all so much!



A little girl from a village not far away accidentally fell on a machete, completely rupturing her Achilles´s tendon. With her foot barely hanging from her body, the community found someone who had a truck and immediately rushed her to the nearest emergency room: us. This was the last day of our 1-week medical mission in La Cucarita, Dominican Republic. During a 3-hour surgery Dr. O´Brien and his team of residents sutured Darisa´s ankle, using the minimal equipment available to them. Months after we left the village we were told that her foot had completely healed and she was now able to play with the village kids again. Darisa`s life fueled a passion developed years earlier.

My decision to be a doctor occurred when I was a patient. At 12 years of age I was diagnosed with micropolycystic ovaries. Over the years, I have seen dozens of physicians and medical professionals. Through my physicians I learned many concepts of medicine. Before I realized, I was in love with the depth, complexity and fine tuning of the human body.

 At 17 years of age, I decided to pursue my medical education in the United States, a very difficult decision. Living alone, mastering a new language and learning new customs has taught me the importance of sacrifice, dedication and perseverance. My parents could barely afford my college tuition, so I have been working as a tutor since arriving here. Keeping up my grades while working until 11:00pm was a challenge, but the pain of missing my family motivated me to make the sacrifice worth it. Through donations and scholarships, including the WEC Scholarship in 2009, I was able to graduate from Valencia Community College and acquire an International Affairs bachelor´s degree from Rollins College.

Though the Declaration of Alma-ATA declared in 1978 that health is a fundamental human right, most of the world today is deprived from this privilege. Indeed, as health inequity grows, millions die everyday from preventable diseases. My life mission is clear: I yearn to change this situation, one person at a time. After all, as Anne Frank said, "how wonderful it is that nobody need to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."