Ds Scholarship

Interdisciplinary studies fit pre-med graduate’s wide-ranging interests

December 9, 2021

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable Fall 2021 alumni.

A graduate of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Mahnoor Ashraf, has many intellectual interests. So when it came time to settle into a major at Arizona State University, she was hesitant to be confined to one area.

Multidisciplinary studies graduate Mahnoor Ashraf plans to take a gap year as she applies to medical school in pursuit of her dream of becoming a trauma surgeon with MSF.
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“I wanted to study and gain knowledge in as many different fields as possible and considered college as the time when I could learn and get new experiences,” said Ashraf, a first-generation college student who grew up in Mesa, Arizona. A Vice Dean’s Award for each semester ASU attended.

She took her advisor’s recommendation and considered a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, where students choose two areas of focus from over 100 options.

“Choosing this major was one of the best choices I made!” She said. “I completed concentrations in History and Biochemistry. I have always loved history and wanted to pursue biochemistry to fulfill the prerequisites of medical school. Through biochemistry classes, I was able to study humans as living beings with cells. However, throughout history, I understood that these beings are individuals with feelings And they are affected by the course of history. Therefore, my view and understanding changed for the better.”

At the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Ashraf has also become active as a Student Ambassador, assisting the College’s Recruitment, Outreach and Engagement team with communications and events for prospective, incoming, and current students.

The hallmark of the major interdisciplinary studies is a required training or applied project. Ashraf chose to do an applied research project with Jennifer Chandler at the CISA School of Leadership and Integrative Studies, working on the project “Increasing Inclusion in Arizona State University’s Bachelor’s Degree Program in Organizational Leadership (Project Management), with a focus on students and project managers with disabilities.”

“I was very grateful to be part of a project that aims to increase diversity and inclusion of students and project managers with disabilities,” Ashraf said. James Baldwin said, “Not everything can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is confronted.” This project allowed me to use my abilities and my voice to increase inclusion in the project management profession. As a result, she has affirmed that our society is moving towards a better tomorrow for all, even if she plays a secondary role.”

In fact, she has a heart that wants to serve others. Ashraf will take a gap year to apply to medical school.

“My dream has always been to become a trauma surgeon and to join MSF,” she said. “Hopefully it will come true soon. Fingers crossed!”

Julie Lim, CISA Assistant Director for Student Engagement and Student Ambassador Program Coordinator, described Ashraf’s capabilities as “unlimited” and noted, “Mahnoor is a very positive and kind person who strives to give her best. She can tackle any obstacle that comes her way through critical thinking, perseverance and relationships. She has a big heart that brings comfort to people – and that would make her a great medical practitioner.”

Read more about Ashraf’s journey at Arizona State University in the questions and answers below:

Question: Why did you choose Arizona State University?

Answer: I chose Arizona State University because it was my father’s dream. I am the son of immigrants and a student of the first generation. My parents always wanted me to attend Arizona State University and get my bachelor’s degree. It was their dream and hope that I would continue higher education, which they could not achieve. I am very fortunate to be able to fulfill their dream today.

Q: What did you learn while at ASU — in class or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

a: In an African American history class with Dr. Jessica Vinas-Nelson, I learned that I can be who I am without any apologies. I am a Muslim woman of color with immigrant children. However, these aspects of my identity are my strengths, not my weaknesses. I learned to embrace those parts of myself and changed my view of my world and the world around me. Thank you for everything, Dr. Vinas-Nelson! you changed my life!

Q: Is there a special ASU experience or part of your trip that stands out?

a: Part of my special journey at ASU is doing sustainable research in chemistry with Dr. Laura Ackerman. She was the first professor who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to do organic chemistry research with her. My love for the field of organic chemistry was born out of her love, support and enthusiasm. This experience I will always carry with me. It shaped me to become a stronger individual and scholar. Thank you, Dr. Ackermann, for feeding my love of chemistry! you are the best!

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while you were at ASU, and what was it?

a: It was Dr. Donald Vexico who taught me the most important lessons during my studies at Arizona State University. He was one of the first professors I took a class with at ASU in the fall of 2019. I will never forget the advice he gave me, which will always stay with me. He told me to fake it until I made it, and he was right. Very often, I encountered impostor syndrome, doubting myself and my abilities. However, it has always encouraged me to believe that I have to be myself and do it in order to do it. Looking back, it was one of the most private lessons I’ve ever learned.

Q: What is the best advice you would give to those still in school?

a: Don’t say no to yourself. You will face many doubts and insecurities during your trip. However, we still try, even if everything seems impossible. Never tell yourself no. Always try to do what you love in the best possible way. You are much more capable than you give yourself credit for. Everything has its time, and it may not look good now, but trust that it will get better. I’ve got this!

Q: What is your favorite place on campus, whether to study, meet friends, or just think about life?

a: My favorite place to study on the Tempe campus was the Nobel Library. I have been able to get many study sessions and last minute assignments in that library, and it will always be a special place for me. This spot has seen my frustrations, my happiness, my insecurities, and so much more. I made a lot of friends and memories there. It’s probably a place I come back to often if I need to bring back memories.

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

a: I will address the issue of lack of access to proper health care throughout the world. The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being regardless of race, religion, beliefs or circumstances. However, currently about 16,000 children die before their fifth birthday. They may die of pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea and other diseases. Children from regions in Africa, the Middle East, South America and Asia are the most affected by such diseases as many of them lack the resources for proper healthcare and treatment. My lifelong goal is to work to reduce healthcare inequality around the world.


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