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Somali student thrives at ASU's School of Molecular Sciences


ASU student Maryam Abdulle poses for a photo in a graduation gown and cap, holding her diploma cover

Maryam Abdulle graduated in December from ASU's School of Molecular Sciences.

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November 29, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Maryam Nahar Abdulle was 14 years old when she moved from Bosaso, Somalia, to Arizona in April 2013. The following day she started school while learning english. This was, to say the least, an extremely difficult adjustment period.

Her struggle has paid off as Abdulle will graduate summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in December majoring in biochemistry from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences. She will also receive a certificate in Arabic studies.

Abdulle’s initial life in Arizona was extremely difficult. She had no translator at school and was learning English while trying to preserve her Arabic and Somali languages. Learning to understand the new culture in Arizona presented its own challenges, but Abdulle maintained her Somali culture and religious practices which kept her motivated to navigate through any challenges.

Abdulle was constantly studying, but her hard work paid off, as she was accepted into GateWay Early College High School, which provides students with an opportunity to complete a high school diploma and an associate degree, concurrently, within five or fewer years. 

Transferring to ASU in 2018, Abdulle worked at many jobs including as a certified nursing assistant, medical imaging and MRI coordinator, as well as a success coach for incoming college students. She has a wealth of health care experience. She also performed undergraduate research at ASU’s Biodesign Institute looking at the molecular workings of Outer Surface Protein (OspC) that is critical in the pathogenicity of Lyme disease. Abdulle also interned at the Arizona Department of Health Services Laboratory.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: The “aha” moment when I realized I wanted to study the field of biochemistry science was when I enjoyed the elegance of biochemistry after learning organic chemistry. Also, biochemistry is applicable to many areas of medicine.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

A: I learned the importance of networking.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: As a first-generation college student, I applied to a few schools and I chose ASU for a few reasons. I chose ASU not only because it offered me the most scholarships, including the New American Scholarship, but also because of the campus resources it offers to students. I also received numerous scholarships from all the universities where I applied.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My scholarship adviser and mentor, Matthew Sotelo, who works with Education Forward Arizona, is one of the amazing people who took the time to mentor me throughout college. Matthew helped me — from resume revisions, writing letters, as well as general life advice and so many other things.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would encourage other students to explore resources and opportunities that not only relate to their current majors but also other side interests they might have. I would advise students to get involved and take opportunities as they can, even if they already have full work and schoolwork schedules. Just make sure you understand time management. Look into internships early in college and know that rejection is an opportunity to learn where to improve and that new doors will open. Trust God and put in effort.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot on campus was on the third floor of Noble Library, specifically the study rooms. I would spend time there every day studying and writing lab reports. It was not close to where most of my classes were located but I still managed to go there to study.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to apply to a computer science master’s degree and utilize my health care knowledge and experiences with technology to help patients’ treatments and help health care workers. Also, as a biochemistry science student who has read and interviewed many scientists who are struggling to make their scientific research and discoveries come to light, I plan on working with scientists in developing countries to help create connections with other countries to make their scientific research and discoveries not only receive funding but also build strong collaborations and resources, and make the process less complicated. I will utilize my science and computer-science skills to create the necessary resources to help.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would spend the $40 million to help provide affordable health care for everyone around the world. Many countries, and Americans without insurance, struggle and cannot afford the care they need, so I would create access to affordable and effective health care options for those patients and communities.

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