Empowered via STEM and empowering others

Najma Adan

By Sean Park
As the oldest of eight siblings, Najma Adan understands how important it is to empower others to achieve their goals. Throughout her academic career at the University of Washington Bothell, she did just that with projects, volunteer service and research. And for her efforts she was recognized this last academic year as one of the Husky 100, students honored from across all three UW campuses for making the most of their UW education.

Adan graduated in June 2020 with a degree in Biology and attended the virtual graduation with her family. Next, she is aiming to attend medical school and is studying for the entrance exam.

“I’m a huge proponent of STEM and science,” said Adan. “I feel very fortunate to have come to UW Bothell and chased the opportunities that were available to me. I felt very empowered by my teachers and colleagues, and my goal was to turn around and do the same for those behind me.”

Teamwork makes dream work

In her first year, Adan noticed there weren’t as many Somalis in the School of STEM as she expected, and she wanted to understand why. “Going back to my community and talking to local high school students, I realized that a lot of students wanted to go into STEM professions, but the lack of diversity made them feel like they wouldn’t be able to succeed in this environment,” said Adan.

The summer between her sophomore and junior year, Adan participated in a summer program at UW Medicine where she met fellow Somali women who shared her passion for STEM education and diversifying the STEM industry. Together, they started an organization called AIM (Aspiring In Medicine) designed to target underrepresented minorities in high school to expose them to various STEM fields and to encourage them to pursue higher education.

“I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did,” said Adan. “I just had this small idea, and it ended up being a really fortunate experience for me. It was very rewarding to mentor these students to help them toward their goal!”

AIM members visited high schools to show students how to translate their passions into a STEM career path. AIM also collaborated with local community partners to expand its efforts, connecting students with organizations involved in important health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and hepatitis.

Receiving and giving

While at UW Bothell, Adan conducted research with her mentor Salwa Al-Noori, a lecturer in biology. They wanted to get a deeper understanding of the atrioventricular valves in the heart. Their goal was to create a 3D model that would give students taking anatomy courses a better understanding of the circulatory system. It was an intricate process.

“Every time I went to Al-Noori’s office to ask her questions about biology, she always made me feel like it’s okay to get things wrong and gave me more mentoring and support than I realized I needed at the time,” said Adan. “She empowered me to grow and become a leader. She’s just awesome.”

Adan also co-founded ORGOReach, a student group that tutors on the subject of organic chemistry with a focus on the three-part course, Organic Chemistry I-III, a requirement for any of the three Chemistry degrees. In addition to tutoring, the group has produced a series of extra practice questions to aid in preparing for exams.

Run your own race

Although the coronavirus pandemic didn’t interrupt her graduating on time, Adan missed being on campus in spring quarter. At the same time, she added, she enjoyed being home with her younger siblings and having them see her in action.

“They loved being part of my online meetings,” she said. “No matter how many times I told them I was on a Zoom call, they would come in and make their presence known.”

When asked how she would empower her siblings, Adan said, “My main advice is to run your own race. Don’t compare yourself to other people because that’s often more harmful than good.

“You’ll end up doing just as well as any other person if you strive to be the best person that you can be.”

Each year, the University of Washington selects 100 students who are making the most of their Husky experience. Thirteen UW Bothell students were recognized as part of the Husky 100 Class of 2020. What’s special about a Husky 100 recipient? They dare to do. They use what they learn inside and outside the classroom to grow personally and to create change in their communities.

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