When Aissata M. B. Camara (’11) came to New York City from Guinea, West Africa, it was supposed to be a temporary thing. She was 13 years old, undocumented, and didn’t speak a word of English. But over the course of the next 22 years, she would become a vital part of the fabric of New York City political life.
She learned English with the help of such children’s shows as Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer, eventually earning her U.S. citizenship and two college degrees. And she went on to become the deputy commissioner for policy and strategic initiatives in the NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs—the youngest deputy commissioner in the city’s history and the first Black African woman to hold the position.
Camara cites her experience as an undergraduate at Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences as a crucial factor in her development.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today without the professors and advisors that poured their love and support into me,” she says.
Like many students who attend Baruch, Camara initially was attracted to its reputation in the financial sector. But the economic recession of 2008 made her consider other directions.
She pivoted to assembling an ad hoc major within the Weissman School, combining coursework in fields of study including psychology, English, and international affairs. After completing a master’s degree at New York University, she happened upon a government job within the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. “To be honest, I was only intrigued because it had the word ‘international’ in it,” she recalls. But Camara applied on a whim and landed the job.
Within the first three weeks of her tenure, she had already launched a new program, New York City Junior Ambassadors, which brings students from across all five boroughs to the United Nations for in-depth tours, talks, and classes. She was soon promoted to deputy commissioner of her department—which she refers to as “the State Department of NYC”—and she has since been named chief of staff as well.
When asked why she is so passionate about helping young people, her thoughts turn towards Dr. Wendy Heyman, a longtime psychologist in Baruch’s Starr Career Development Center who passed away in 2018. Camara notes that Dr. Heyman always took her dreams and goals seriously and encouraged her to pursue politics.
Years later, Dr. Heyman attended an event that Camara hosted at the United Nations.
“I looked over and saw that, all these years later, she was watching me work alongside the mayor,” Camara says. “I’ll never forget it. She said she couldn’t have been prouder of me.”