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SUNY Potsdam Student Receives Educational Opportunity Award, Accepted to Johns Hopkins University

January 27, 2021

Politics Student Ramatu Muhammed ’21 Honored for Outstanding Work in International Relations 

SUNY Potsdam international studies major Ramatu Muhammed ’21 has received the 2020 Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for EOP students. She has also been accepted into a top graduate program in international studies at Johns Hopkins University.

SUNY Potsdam’s recipient of the 2020 Norman R. McConney Jr. Award has more than that honor to celebrate.  

Ramatu Muhammed ’21 was one of 45 students to recently receive the SUNY-wide award for participants of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), recognizing those who thrive despite obstacles to their success. Muhammed also learned last month that she had been accepted into a master’s program for international relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies—a top program of its kind in the world.  

“I got the email and I just screamed,” she recalled. “I had said, ‘I’m just testing the waters. I’m not really going to get into Hopkins.’ I’m grateful and so excited.” 

Muhammed will spend a year on the Washington, D.C., campus, and a year on the Bologna, Italy, campus of Johns Hopkins University, bolstering an already formidable portfolio of experiences with the complex interrelations of a planet and its people.  

Both of Muhammed’s parents were born in Ghana. She grew up in the Bronx and traveled to West Africa as a child, immersing herself in the swirl of cultures that held both foreign color and a familiar heartbeat. The early experiences abroad fueled her curiosity about the world, an interest in diplomacy and a desire to help.  

An international studies and politics major at SUNY Potsdam, Muhammed has helped rebuild schools in Mexico as a volunteer with All Hands and Hearts, restoring structures shattered by a series of 2017 earthquakes. She flavored her education with study abroad in both England and Morocco, and interned full-time with the Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations in New York City, where the latter experience opened her eyes to the unique challenges facing remote island nations. 

Muhammed poses for a portrait on the slopes of Titus Mountain, in Malone, N.Y.

Muhammed has stayed busy closer to home as well, serving both as a diversity ambassador at SUNY Potsdam and a member of the Black Student Alliance. She worked as a student assistant and academic tutor for the EOP at SUNY Potsdam and has been a member of the Pi Sigma Alpha honor society for political science. In 2020, she received the Canfield Scholarship awarded each spring to an outstanding junior or senior in the Department of Politics. She was also picked for the inaugural Community Advocacy Award in 2018 for her work with the international non-profit Soliya and its virtual cultural exchange, which uses roundtable discussions to empower young people to engage with cultural differences in a positive way. Dr. Michael Popovic, an instructor and coordinator of the College’s international studies program, uses the Soliya Connect platform each semester to foster discussions between his students and young people from dozens of countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. 

Whether engaging an intergenerational link between students and professors at the Black Student Alliance and finding a safe space there to open up about vital topics—or staying in constructive interactions with a majority of her professors through the years, Muhammed has found a rich and empowering experience in the North Country. 

“Ramatu is an excellent example of what a highly motivated, intelligent scholar and aspiring diplomat should be,” said SUNY Potsdam EOP Director Sabel Bong in her nomination for the Norman R. McConney Jr. Award. “She is bound for great and wonderful things in this world.” 

Muhammed’s goal is become a diplomat and work for the United Nations, bridging cultures and creating the flow of communication so critical to cooperation and understanding across the global stage. Along the way, she hopes to be a role model for a younger generation. 

“I want to be someone that other young girls from the Bronx can look to as an example, so they know they can achieve what they want—be who they want to be—regardless of the identities that have been imposed on them,” Muhammed said. 

SUNY Potsdam’s international studies program offers students a focused course of study in world history and international politics, grounded in economics. Students also complete modern language requirements and an intercultural experience as part of the interdisciplinary major, giving them solid preparation for graduate study and careers in government, international business and public service. To learn more, visit

About SUNY Potsdam: Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit

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