Brandeis Inside Out: Sarah Magda Zainelabdin '18
Though she worried about being an outsider, Sarah Magda Zainelabdin has made Brandeis feel like home.
In the months before she came to Brandeis, Sarah Magda Zainelabdin worried if she would fit in. She grew up on Staten Island in New York City. Her mother came from Romania and worked as a nurse, and her father, a Muslim born in Sudan, drove a truck. She suspected her background was different from many of her classmates.
Her fears of feeling like an outsider were soon put to rest. Several weeks before school started, Zainelabdin was invited to attend a “boot camp” for students like her who were interested in the sciences. The students were all part of the Brandeis Science Posse program which aims to increase the population of underrepresented groups in college-level science. Boot camp focused on academics, but afterwards there was a retreat. “It was like summer camp,” Zainelabdin says. “It was a lot of trust-building exercises and team building.”
The friendships she developed have endured. Issues of belonging have never been an issue. "I've always had a group of people to turn to," Zainelabdin says.
She was also assigned a graduate student mentor who like her was a person of color.
Zainelabdin has taken full advantage of the opportunities offered at Brandeis. Since she was a freshman, Zainelabdin has worked in the lab of professor of biology and chemistry Liz Hedstrom. Working beside graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, she’s investigating how cruciferous vegetables — cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and others — prevent cancer. She has a $5,250 grant from Brandeis’ Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program in Cell & Molecular Visualization to spend the summer working in the lab. (The program is funded by the National Science Foundation.) She was also part of a contingent of Brandeis students who spent spring break in Honduras, helping to provide health services to people living in rural areas. “There are so many opportunities for students here,” she says.
Zainelabdin wants to be a doctor. She believes medicine requires skills and knowledge that go beyond the sciences. In addition to chemistry, she is majoring in Health: Science, Society and Policy and anthropology. The interdisciplinary approach, she says, has prepared her to treat patients from different cultures and understand how public policy affects healthcare.