Beginning college can be a daunting task for any incoming student: new classes, new friendships, a change of scenery. Of course, Montgomery County Community College student Ali Mohammed was used to such challenges. He’d already faced a new country, a new language, and a new way of life; and he excelled at every turn.
Born in Iraq, Mohammed moved with his family to Jordan shortly after an accident left his younger brother with severe spinal cord injuries, leading to paralysis. Seeking better healthcare options and more aggressive spinal cord research, the family eventually moved to the United States in June of 2008, settling down in the King of Prussia area. More recently, Mohammed and his parents, along with his three brothers, bought a house in Conshohocken. After changing schools three times in Iraq, twice in Jordan, and the constant succession of new housing, the College student is happy to put down some roots.
For Mohammed, learning comes naturally as evidenced by his smooth integration into the American education system and his now flawless English.
“The first of couple of months was pretty rough,” Mohammed admitted, “because I learned all of my English here. All I knew was thank you and hello, the simple things. And then suddenly I started ninth grade. But after about six months, I learned the language.”
On graduating high school, college was a foregone conclusion. Mohammed comes from a family of doctors, and his passion for medicine is deeply ingrained. Medical school had always been his plan.
“I’ve been interested in medicine since I was six years old,” Mohammed shared. “My daycare was next to the hospital where my parents worked, so my mom would come see me on her breaks and then go back to the hospital.”
Originally intrigued by psychology, Mohammed found his interest turning towards neuroscience as he prepared for college.
“I looked at neuroscience and it’s basically psychology but focused on the physiology of the brain, which is more interesting to me,” Mohammed mentioned. “I like knowing all the terms, and understanding how the brain interacts.”
Both of Mohammed’s older brothers went to Montgomery County Community College, one having gone on to a biochemistry degree at Temple, the other an engineering degree at Penn State. Mohammed carried on the legacy, throwing himself into the College experience and finding immediate gratification as part of the Honors Program.
“It was the first thing I got involved with at MCCC. It’s how I made my first friend,” Mohammed said of the program. “Dr. [Sophia] Demasi [associate professor of Sociology] was great. She helped me pick my classes and she was always there for us.”
Being a delegate for the Honors Program along with Mohammed’s natural leadership skills quickly led him to other roles: a senator with the Student Government Association, a member of the International Club, and president of the Muslim Student Association. It’s a lot, but the recent MCCC graduate doesn’t let himself get distracted from his goal of becoming a doctor.
“If it’s a question between going out with friends and studying for the exam, I’ll probably be studying for the exam,” Mohammed admitted. “That’s my priority.”
All his studying has paid off, as graduated in May with a degree in Liberal Studies, per-requisites for medical school all finished. In the upcoming fall, Mohammed will begin classes at Temple University, working towards a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. If the idea of another new school is intimidating, Mohammed doesn’t let on, although he admits that having an older brother already at the University helps.
“I sort of have training wheels, so to speak,” Mohammed joked. “But I’m excited to make new friends. I just really like making connections to people.”
For Mohammed, the challenges of traveling and interacting with new people is an asset, motivating his desire to learn more and have different experiences. It has also become the cornerstone of his drive towards medicine.
“When I finish medical school, I’d like to work for Doctors Without Borders for a couple of years,” Mohammed remarked. “Seeing new people, and new cultures, it’s fascinating…and with medicine you’re helping people feel better, which is a good thing.”
A global citizen without borders, a student without borders, and a soon to be doctor without borders, Mohammed is one member of the MCCC community proving that hard work means endless opportunities.
~ Kelly Cox