College of Alameda Valedictorian Rooted in War-Torn Iraq
Iraqui native Fudhah Al khafaji celebrated her graduation day at the College of Alameda in a special way. She addressed her fellow graduates, the faculty and staff and families and guests as valedictorian.
Fudhah received her associate of science degree in biology and plans to continue her studies in the fall. She is not yet certain which of the seven schools that have accepted her she will attend. She plans to major in chemical biology or biochemistry.
“I have faced significant challenges, Fudhah said. “During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I lived with the thundering sound of Apache helicopters and bombardments for months.” She recalls gathering with her family in a narrow hallway in her house to remain distant from the fragile windows.
“I did not allow this experience to drive me to depression”, she said. She proved to herself and to others that she did more than just survive the war. “Thanks to my spirituality, I remained imperturbable and discovered my inner strength and potential.”
Her family fled to safety in Jordan, where they found severe shortages in resources for young people wishing to develop professional skills. When she was in high school in Amman, Jordan, she arranged interviews with faculty members in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department at the German-Jordanian University in Amman. She toured biochemistry labs, audited molecular and cell biology classes and toured Hikma Pharmaceuticals, a leading pharmaceutical company in Amman.
Fudhah learned about the nuances of studying biochemistry and chemical biology. She also researched quality assurance and the process of drug development. Fudhah will study for a master of sciences degree in pharmaceutical sciences. She hopes to put her skills to work in drug design and drug development for unmet and under-met medical needs around the globe.
Fudhah participated in Jordan’s scarce educational and leadership programs. These included the Youth Leadership Development Program and the Queen Rania Teacher Academy Program sponsored by the queen of Jordan. During the Youth Leadership Development Program, she mastered time-management and influential communication skills.
Fudhah came to the United States in 2013. “I faced an immense cultural shift and all its associated challenges,” she said. These included racism, a language barrier and homesickness.
“I strived to overcome those obstacles and stepped further out of my comfort zone to seek and take advantage of any educational and career opportunities available.”
Instead of dealing with problems, Fudhah said that she always concentrates on finding solutions and creating opportunities where there were none before. She volunteered as a general chemistry lab assistant at Laney College. She presented introductory lectures and discussions and provided one-on-one support to students, ensuring that they were treating lab equipment properly. She also volunteered as a mentor and provided career and educational guidance for elementary and high-school students at Girls Inc. of the Island City.
Fudhah encouraged the young students to work hard in their math and science courses, graduate from high school and obtain college degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Fudhah views this as the path to becoming pioneer scientists capable of solving global problems.
“I view my volunteering work with Girls Inc. as a powerful means of reducing the underrepresentation of women in STEM by empowering low-income and culturally diverse young women to explore their passion for science,” she said.
Fudhah joined the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, where she demonstrated her leadership skills and initiative. She planned events, performed outreach on and off campus and provided support through volunteer tutoring in science and math subjects.
“Ultimately, I consistently make certain that I am involved in improving myself and those who surround me in order to achieve social justice and create a strong and powerful community,” she said.