Release Date: 
Sunday, September 27, 2020

HawkPride: HFC alumnus wins Blue Ribbon Award for UROP project

HFC alumnus Yazan Alheresh is currently attending the University of Detroit Mercy on a full-ride scholarship.
HFC alumnus Yazan Alheresh is currently attending the University of Detroit Mercy on a full-ride scholarship.

When HFC student Yazan Alheresh wasn’t able to find an engineering project – his chosen field – for the University of Michigan (U-M) Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) this past summer, he retained his determination to participate in the program and completed a COVID-related project in medicine. Then, he won a Blue Ribbon Award for his presentation. This award is given to outstanding presentations at the UROP symposium.

Alheresh, of Dearborn, was one of seven HFC students (45 total from 15 Michigan community colleges) to present a research project at the UROP Summer Virtual Symposium in late July. His friend and fellow HFC classmate, Sarah Harb, encouraged him to get involved with UROP.

“Repurposing Drugs to Potentially Find a Treatment for COVID-19 Patients”

Alheresh worked with Dr. Fadwl Alakwaa, a research investigator in the Department of Neurology at the U-M Medical School. His project was called “Repurposing Drugs to Potentially Find a Treatment for COVID-19 Patients.”

“Our goal was to find connections between drugs and the ACE2 gene (Angiotensin I Converting Enzyme 2, which is a protein-coding gene associated with the coronavirus) using the connectivity map. Then we took those drugs with the strongest connection to the ACE2 gene and tested them to potentially find a treatment for COVID-19 patients. We found four potential drugs that could be helpful to treat COVID 19 patients, and we are trying to publish our findings in a scientific journal,” explained Alheresh.

Although they were some technical and communication challenges at the beginning of the UROP project, things managed to smooth out, according to Alheresh. He ended up learning a lot.

“Dr. Alakwaa is a really smart mentor, and I am also incredibly thankful and appreciative of Dr. Michelle Ferrez, the director of UROP, whose valuable time and mentorship were critical to my success,” said Alheresh.

Winning the Blue Ribbon Award

“Yazan is a good student,” said Alakwaa. “He worked hard, and he learned exactly what I wanted. When I assigned him a task, he gave me what I asked for in record time. He is good at problem-solving and knows what to accomplish. The presentation was excellent. His visual representation of the data was organized and well-designed. He excelled in demonstrating the context of his research along with what he learned about the project. As a result, he earned the Blue Ribbon Award.”

Alheresh won $500 from the National Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) for the stellar job on his research and presentation. which will be applied to his tuition at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM), where he transferred this fall and is majoring in mechanical engineering.

“I was planning to attend U-M, but I was offered a full-ride scholarship at UDM,” he said.

Family led him to the HFC family

Born in Jordan, Alheresh immigrated with his family to the United States as a young child. A 2016 alumnus of Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, he followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Rahaf, beginning his college career at HFC.

“I heard a lot of good things about HFC when I was in high school. My big sister attended HFC and advised me to go there. I loved everything about HFC. The College was like my home. I used to spend hours and hours on campus, just studying and talking to some of the amazing professors. The most amazing professors I encountered were Dr. Rama Chidambaram and Mrs. Nahla Haidar. They were the ones who inspired and helped me to be successful. I will never forget them,” Alheresh recalled.

Alheresh was vice president of the HFC Math Club and a member of the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC) Student Math League. He placed No. 7 in all regions (comprising approximately 1,260 students) in AMATYC. He was also a math tutor for two semesters at the College.

“Despite many competing demands for his time, he would always find time to help other students learn math. When he started working as a math tutor, he would stop by my office to discuss how to best explain a concept to students while tutoring. He wanted to make sure that everyone he tutored learned what they needed to learn,” said Chidambaram.

“Yazan was so patient with students,” added Haidar. “He was meeting with them outside class to help them. This was his own time. He was not getting paid for that. Students loved him and asked about him all the time, he was so helpful to them. Despite the challenges he faced, he is a hard worker and always willing to help.

A passion to learn, and to help others learn

Alheresh had a lifelong fascination with airplanes and automobiles. He wanted to design and build them one day, which inspired him to pursue a career in engineering. Once he completes his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UDM, he plans to pursue his master’s degree in aerospace engineering at U-M. He credits his passion for the field to HFC.

“HFC was a big part of my success and it will always will be going forward,” said Alheresh.

Chidambaram believes Alheresh has a bright future.

“Yazan was an exceptional student who not only loved to learn but also loved to help others learn,” she said. “I met him as a Calculus I student in the fall of 2018. It was a very challenging semester for him because of an unexpected personal crisis that demanded a lot of his attention and time. But it did not deter him from learning and doing his best. In spite of all the challenges, he completed the semester successfully and did exceptionally well in each of the math classes he took. Yazan is a capable, determined, hardworking, caring individual. What sets him apart from other students is his unlimited passion for learning and his determination to help others learn.”