Al Ghurair STEM Scholar Aspires to Break New Ground in Biochemistry, Disease Prevention
The death of Salma Abou Elhassan grandmother greatly affected her decision to attend AUC.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, the physicians at the time deemed Abou Elhassan's grandmother a “hopeless case” and decided not to take any further actions on the matter. Appalled by the reality of the limitations of medicine, this experience propelled Abou Elhassan to realize what she wanted to do in her career.
“At this moment, I knew what I really wanted from life,” said Abou Elhassan ’22, who came to AUC from Egypt's Dakhalia governorate. “I want to help relieve patients’ suffering and give hope to the so-called “hopeless” patients by understanding the molecular basis of diseases and subsequently finding novel therapies to alleviate their pain.”
Last month, Abou Elhassan — a biology major and Al Ghurair STEM Scholar — found herself one step closer to her dream while standing on AUC’s graduation stage, wearing the summa cum laude cords and joining just ten others from AUC's School of Sciences and Engineering in receiving the Exemplary Student title.
“I put all of my heart into things I’m passionate about, so having this recognition is proof that I did my best at AUC and for AUC,” she said.
Abou Elhassan was an active student at AUC. Not only was she a member of several student organizations, such as the Anti-Cancer team and the Biology Association, but she also co-founded AUC-iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine), a multidisciplinary team of 13 students who went on to win a silver medal in the iGEM international competition. Abou Elhassan also participated in the SensUs International Competition in 2021, where she worked to construct a biosensor to detect the Influenza A virus, under the supervision of Hassan Azzazy, distinguished University professor of chemistry. Additionally, she worked at the Student Disability Services Unit, where she helped students with disabilities by scribing their exams and taking notes by hand in lectures.
During Abou Elhassan's final semester at AUC, she was a teaching assistant in the Vertebrae Anatomy and Physiology course. Prior to that, she worked as a research assistant at the Children’s Cancer Hospital 57357 in Cairo's El Sayeda Zeinab district.
“Such an experience in a cosmopolitan and diverse working environment prepared me to be open to other viewpoints, allowing for flexibility within discussions and encouraging a sense of intercultural communication,” she reflected.
Overall, she feels grateful for the opportunities she found at AUC, which allowed her to thrive throughout her undergraduate studies, including faculty members who encouraged her and the community she became a part of. “At AUC, I've found an immensely accepting and loving community that prides itself on diversity,” Abou Elhassan said. “As a whole, I've found great people all over the University that have made my undergraduate studies really wonderful.”
Support from All Sides
In her town of Belqas and beyond, Abou Elhassan is a shining example of a successful woman. She credits much of her success to her parents, who she says taught her how to think for herself and have been supportive of her work as a thriving scientist.
“Having been independent since I was 15 [while at boarding school], I’ve seen a plethora of people: some will discourage you, some will undermine you and your abilities, some will take advantage of you, and some will harass you no matter how hard you are trying to take one more step toward achieving your dream,” stated Abou Elhassan. “I’ve learned that things can go awry, but what makes you unique or at least successful is how your perseverance will withstand these intolerable hardships.”
Abou Elhassan is also thankful for the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars program, which has been operating at the University since 2016.
“The scholarship allowed me to attend AUC without putting a financial burden on my family,” Abou Elhassan shared. “I was able to go to college without stressing over tuition fees, accommodation, transportation and even my living expenses — which is crucial since college can already be stressful enough.”
Abou Elhassan has already been accepted into a PhD program at a top, globally-ranked university, where she will continue her studies in biochemistry this fall.
Conducting high-caliber research in biochemistry and investigating the causes of diseases, especially cancer, is yet another stepping stone for Abou Elhassan in reaching her career goals. She hopes to eventually establish a research lab aimed at studying biomolecules in order to elucidate the molecular basis of diseases, make groundbreaking discoveries and give patients a better outlook in their process of recovery.
This, in turn, ties into her dream of teaching.
“Teaching biochemistry at a top-tier, research-based university will allow me to pass on my knowledge and inspire the next generations,” said Abou Elhassan. “I believe that all people exist, but not all of us truly live. Therefore, through education and passing knowledge to further generations, I can live infinitely and leave a real impact for a longer period of time.”
The young academic’s dedication toward biochemistry and its related fields, as well as to her dreams, is inspired by her love of science. “This passion for science is like a milk stool; it rests on three pillars: science is a lifesaver, is integral and carries a message,” she affirmed.