Thunderbird grad uses degree to propel venture of serving communities in need

May 2, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Ashraf A. Ismail began his Master of Global Management (MGM) at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University the way many did — online during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he still found himself connected to — and inspired by — his classmates from around the world. Ashraf Atif Ismail Abdelrazig Ashraf A. Ismail graduates this spring with a Master in Global Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU. Download Full Image

“The whole student body was joining from different time zones, but the program was still so seamless and smooth. Everyone was still engaged and didn’t skip a beat,” the Thunderbird SHARE Fellow said. “It was then when I knew the Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t something that is just talked about here — rather, it is truly pioneered.”

As a native of Sudan and the son of a political refugee, Ismail is passionate about using his MGM to further serve communities in need and provide quality education to refugees. He founded Knowledge Ark (KnowArk), a startup that helps refugees thrive educationally and earn a globally recognized high school diploma, receive vocational training or learn a new language.

He also notes Thunderbird and ASU’s 100 Million Learners Initiative as something he hopes to contribute to in the future. Read on for more.

Question: Where are you from and why did you decide to enroll at Thunderbird? 

Answer: I’m from Sudan, and I joined Thunderbird after my childhood friend (since the fourth grade) recommended it. He’s also an alumnus who always spoke greatly about his experience. He often describes his experience as life-changing. After having gone through the program, I can see what he means because this school has truly changed my life. 

Q: What do you love about being a T-bird?

A: Grace and humility. Despite being a No. 1-ranked program, everyone is so humble and hard-working. They want to live up to the ranking more than they want to brag about it. Each and every T-bird wants to give back to the school as much as they want to take from it.

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

A: I run (KnowArk) that is poised to give access to education to 250,000 refugees by 2030. If I had $40 million, I’d definitely use that money to accelerate our mission and further contribute to the 100 Million Learners Initiative the university embarked on.

Q: What has your experience at Thunderbird been like?

A: Thunderbird is truly a microcosm of the world. As someone who’s from Sudan, I’d be in a classroom where the person to my right is from Peru, the one to my left is from Japan, the one in front of me is from the Netherlands and the one behind me is from Australia. However, they are all relentlessly trying to find ways to collaborate and learn from one another. It is the true embodiment of the school’s motto: “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.” The experience at Thunderbird isn’t just “one-liners” that are used for marketing purposes; rather, it is a holistic experience that these one-liners try to capture a very small part of.

Mary Hess

Digital communications specialist, Thunderbird School of Global Management

Computer science grad helped his peers and the wider Phoenix community

May 2, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Computer science and engineering have made many things possible for Yasser Mountasir Dbeis.  Yasser Mountasir Dbeis Yasser Mountasir Dbeis, who is from Syria, has used his computer science and engineering skills to help his peers and refugees in Phoenix. Download Full Image

“I was tired of all the barriers to make my ideas a reality,” says Dbeis, who is earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science and computer systems engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. “Coding allowed me to go from ideation to creation with just a computer.”

Dbeis saw this in action while he worked at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Cancer Center as an artificial intelligence software development intern. There he built an application for cancer research at hospitals.

“Being able to go from zero application-development experience to building the entire application in one summer was extremely empowering,” says Dbeis, a student in ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College. “It also showed me how much of an impact I could make through software engineering.”

The skills he developed have taken Dbeis far, earning him top-three finishes in coding and design competitions and enabling him to help others.

In leadership roles with the Software Developers Association, Dbeis hosted technical development, interview practice and resume workshops to help students get their dream jobs and internships. 

One of his biggest achievements was revitalizing ASU’s PCs for Refugees club, which helps fix and deliver PCs for refugees living in Arizona.

Another memorable experience was building the Refugee & IDP Camp Tracker website to educate people about the refugee situation around the world, a project he took on his sophomore year after his internship was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dbeis was helped on his educational journey through the Stanley C. and Helen K. Delpier Scholarship, the ON Semiconductor Scholarship, the Garmin Scholarship, the RMEL Foundation Scholarship and the New American University Scholarship – President’s Award. 

Some of the most influential people during his time at ASU were Assistant Professor Heewook Lee, Lecturer Justin Selgrad, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Associate Director of Artificial Intelligence Operations and Data Science Services Renato Umeton, and ASU alumnus Kaan Aksoy.

Through his many experiences at ASU, Dbeis has gained the satisfaction of finding new and unique ways to solve problems, lost his fear of failure and has seen the potential of his work to impact many people. 

After graduation, Dbeis will begin his career as a software engineer in Seattle. In the long term, Dbeis would like to start a software company with the people he has met at ASU.

“While I do not know exactly how,” Dbeis says, “I would like this company to be leveraged to help rebuild my home country of Syria.”

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ spring 2022 class here.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering