Hithem Ghadamsi wasn’t the type of student who would brag about his accomplishments. According to his professors at the University of Washington Bothell, he was a disciplined student and a leader among his peers — but not the kind of leader who took credit for his work or boasted about his achievements.
His work, however, didn’t go unnoticed.
Ghadamsi was nominated by his professors for the 2023 President’s Medal, which he was presented in this year’s Commencement Ceremony on June 11.
Each year, the President’s Medal is awarded to a graduating senior with the most distinguished academic record. Students are nominated and selected from the top 2% of the graduating class in their program. In addition to their academic success, students are selected based on other honors and awards, research and publications, as well as future plans.
Ghadamsi graduated with a major in Biology and a minor in Neuroscience. He is currently taking a gap year while he applies to medical school with the goal of becoming a doctor specializing in neuroscience.
A discovery of limitless potential
Ghadamsi always knew he would go to college. Higher education was a priority for his family going three generations back.
“My grandpa was the first person to go to college in his city where he grew up in Libya,” he said. “From then on, my dad and all his siblings went to college, and my dad got the opportunity to go to the United States and study. It was ingrained into the family that college education is very important.”
From an early age, Ghadamsi had an interest in science and engineering. He enjoyed tearing stuff apart and discovering how things worked. Together with his dad, he worked on fixing cars. His interest in science deepened in high school with his biology and chemistry classes.
While college felt not only possible — even essential — to Ghadamsi as a young boy, he still believed what he could accomplish would be limited because of his heritage. “I didn’t think I could be a doctor until I was told I could,” he said. “I didn’t see anybody like me who was a doctor.”
Ghadamsi’s father challenged this perception and helped him imagine all that could be possible for him. Now, as a college graduate, what he once thought was unimaginable has become his life’s ambition. And he hopes that, as a doctor, he will also be an inspirational figure for other young people like him to see what they can achieve.
Specializing in neuroscience
Ghadamsi’s interest in neuroscience in particular started at the age of 16 when he had a seizure while having dinner with his family. Once at UW Bothell, he laid the groundwork for this specialization through his minor and by completing two summer internships: the UW Summer Health Professions Education Program and the UW Medicine Department of Neurological Surgery Summer Student Program.
“Being able to participate in a neurosurgery internship where I gained lab experience and made clinical observations really reassured me in my goal to become a doctor who studies neuroscience,” he said.
Pre-med adviser Kristen Labrecque helped him apply for the program. Then, after completing the internship, Ghadamsi in turn worked to encourage other students to apply.
“He was getting help and passing it on,” said Dr. Alaron Lewis, associate teaching professor and chair of biological sciences in the School of STEM. “This is totally in-line with what I know of Hithem — not just accepting help but passing that help on to others.”
The internship also opened Ghadamsi up to the idea of doing his own research, he said. As a senior at the 2023 UW Undergraduate Research Symposium, he presented “Impact of Ndufs4 KO on GABAergic Interneuron morphology in a Mouse Model of Leigh Syndrome.”
An accomplished student and leader
Even beyond his two internships, Ghadamsi was an accomplished student who made the Dean’s List each quarter. Lewis recalls having to remind Ghadamsi of that very fact when she asked her Cell Biology class to practice writing cover letters.
“I pointed out to him that making the Dean’s List and being eligible for the President’s Medal were impressive accomplishments that he should tell people about, and he just shrugged about it self-consciously,” she said. “Hithem is an excellent student but not in a flashy way. He is extremely modest about his own activities and accomplishments. He did not set out to get the best score, he just set out to do his best — and it turns out that his best is pretty darn good.”
Lewis added that even in remote classroom settings, Ghadamsi’s engagement with his peers stood out and his desire to learn was evident in the insightful questions he asked. As classes returned in person, his “quiet and unassuming” presence as a leader grew, she said.
“Hithem is a wonderful, caring human being. He is absolutely a leader in class. Not a loud out-in-front leader, but a ‘talk to everyone in your group’ leader and a ‘make sure everyone has a voice’ leader and ‘stop by the professor’s office to advocate for others’ leader,” Lewis said.
A desire to help others
Ghadamsi’s role as a leader and a resource for his peers extended outside the classroom to his work across several student clubs and activities, as well. One club stands out as a passion project for him: the Student Association for Refugees and Immigrants.
SAFIR was founded in 2019 to support refugees and immigrants in the campus community to succeed academically and professionally. The club works with the International Rescue Committee to develop connections with UW Bothell and refugees. It became inactive after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted campus activities. In the hopes of reviving the club when in-person activities resumed, Dr. Salwa Al-Noori reached out to Ghadamsi.
“Hithem’s role in SAFIR has been significant,” said Al-Noori, associate teaching professor in the School of STEM. “With the other club officers, he has worked tirelessly to facilitate events and awareness that support students from immigrant and refugee communities and which promote understanding, inclusion and practical benefits for students from diverse communities.”
As president of SAFIR, Ghadamsi helped organize events such as clothing drives, youth mentorship programs and career networking nights.
“I want to help people because it’s the right thing to do,” Ghadamsi said. “Being a first-generation American, I’ve witnessed what it was like for other people. Reflecting on my parents’ experience coming to the U.S. and having to struggle, I feel that I’ve been fortunate to have a different experience, and I want to pay that forward to others who haven’t had the same opportunities.”
Ghadamsi’s passion for SAFIR’s mission is part of his overall ambition to help others. He aims to someday practice medicine both in the U.S. and in his family’s home country of Libya. In Libya, he hopes to develop a program or a clinic to help provide health care services to the communities that need it most.
Graduating on a high note
When Ghadamsi heard he was receiving the President’s Medal, he was excited to see his dedication to his course work and his extracurricular activities recognized.
“I knew how much hard work I put in throughout college,” he said. “At times school was very challenging, so being recognized for that is very gratifying.”
His professors were thrilled to hear he had been awarded the medal.
“Hithem has consistently over the period of his undergraduate studies demonstrated the characteristics that make him truly deserving of this award; he is an excellent student not only as reflected in his impressive performance in his coursework and through his engagement in research but for the dedication and passion he brings to learning,” Al-Noori said. “He also has a strong commitment to community as can be seen by his extracurricular engagement, especially in his contributions through SAFIR and the local Greater Seattle community.
“I truly believe Hithem is deserving of the recognition conferred by this medal, and I am confident that he will continue forward with the same commitment and dedication in his future.”