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Commencement 2015: Student speaker’s lab experience fuels problem-solving passion

Published May 14, 2015

Houda Abdelrahman was drawn to medicine for the chance to interact with patients and find solutions to their health problems. That passion was crystallized while the senior served as an undergraduate research assistant at NDSU. 

The research experience taught Abdelrahman valuable lessons about perseverance and personal growth. Now she will share those lessons with the rest of NDSU’s graduating class. 

Abdelrahman will highlight the university’s critical role in her past, present and future as student speaker during the NDSU commencement ceremony scheduled for Saturday, May 16, at 10 a.m., in the Fargodome. Her message is about the power of passion in helping fellow graduates persevere and overcome obstacles.

“Houda is a remarkable woman,” said Julia Bowsher, assistant professor of biological sciences. “In Houda, great intelligence is combined with a high level of energy and curiosity.”

Abdelrahman began volunteering in Bowsher’s lab following her freshman year. She studied insects. One project was a two-year study looking at low-oxygen storage environments for pollinator bees. The goal was to help agricultural producers whose seasonal crops depend on improved survival rates for pollinator bees stored during the winter. The study showed that extended storage in a low-oxygen environment enhances bee survival at the cost of sub-lethal health effects.

Houda Abdelrahman was selected as speaker for spring commencement. Her address will focus on the power of passion and overcoming obstacles.

Her findings also contributed a possible solution to the global honeybee colony collapse disorder.

Abdelrahman contributed to an article that was published in the Journal of Insect Physiology. Her work also earned her a summer research internship at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland.

Bowsher’s lab was Abdelrahman’s introduction to hands-on research. It engaged her. It helped her discover the beauty in learning. Perhaps most importantly, it taught her that failure is often a first step toward new knowledge. That message will be highlighted during Abdelrahman’s commencement speech. 

“Experiments don’t often work the first time,” Abdelrahman said. “I had to be able to work at a problem and find happiness in discovering the solution. It’s how you grow as a scientist. You learn from your mistakes.” 

Frustration was a natural part of the process. “But Thomas Edison felt that as well,” she said.

Abdelrahman’s commencement address will frame Edison’s perseverance as a lesson in passion because failures are often the steps toward success. For example, Edison went through 1,000 failed iterations of the light bulb before perfecting it. He didn’t see it as 1,000 failures, but as steps toward a solution.

She plans to build on the experience in her future as a physician with a focus in medical research. She will attend the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Abdelrahman gained much of her curiosity and love of learning from her parents.

She is a first-generation American, the daughter of Egyptian-American parents: Magdy Abdelrahman, NDSU associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Abeer Megahed, both of Fargo. She will be the first in her family to attend medical school in the United States.

Abdelrahman’s campus activities ranged from contributing health and science articles to The Spectrum student newspaper to being a member of the Pre-Medicine Association. She also was vice president and secretary of the College of Science and Mathematics’ Student Ambassadors. Abdelrahman also was active in the community, volunteering at Bethany Retirement Living and Fargo Adult Learning Center’s “English as a Second Language” program.

“NDSU is a place where I could grow, develop and learn while being happy and investigative,” she said. “It’s an environment that encouraged me to explore and discover new things – both in academics and student involvement.”

Information about NDSU commencement is available at The event will be streamed live, with an archive video available the week following the ceremony.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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North Dakota State University
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Last Updated: Tuesday, October 20, 2015 3:29:20 PM
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