Release Date: 
Monday, May 22, 2023

HawkStrong: alumnus earns NASA Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship

Photo of Ziyad Muflahi, Henry Ford College alumnus.

Things have come full circle for HFC alumnus Ziyad Muflahi, who was recently awarded one of NASA’s Michigan Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowships.

When the Dearborn Heights resident began his undergraduate career at Wayne State University in 2015, Muflahi was going through some hard times that had an adverse effect on his grades.

“At that time, our house was under foreclosure, and I had a few semesters where my GPA was very low,” said Muflahi, a native of Yemen. “Wayne State encouraged me to go to a community college, demonstrate that I can perform, and then come back. Now I’m blessed to be back at Wayne State earning my doctorate.”

Discovering a passion for psychology at HFC

Transferring to HFC, Muflahi – the eldest of five and an alumnus of Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights – earned his associate degree in general studies, graduating magna cum laude. He finished his undergraduate career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and business administration. Returning to Wayne State, Muflahi has joined an M.A./Ph.D. Industrial-Organizational Psychology program. He is expected to earn his master’s degree in 2024 and his doctoral degree in 2026.

“HFC was close to home and work and had affordable courses,” recalled Muflahi. “It enabled me to pivot to work after classes; otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to afford college.”

Initially, Muflahi planned to study biology and go to medical school. That changed when he took Introductory Psychology at HFC.

“I wanted to play a part in making people’s lives better, and I thought going into the medical field was the best way to help. It wasn’t until taking the psych class at HFC that I began to consider psychology and explored other ways to help,” he said. “At HFC, I discovered my passion for psychology. During my first semester, I found myself eager to attend each session of my psych class. It was the first time I had felt excited to learn. I was eager to continue and see what other things in psychology could get me this excited.”

HFC prepared him for doctoral work

Muflahi credits HFC with helping him find his academic footing, which prepared him for his doctoral work.

“HFC provided me with a solid foundation in academic skills, particularly in comprehension and writing, which has been invaluable in my Ph.D. studies,” he said.

Muflahi called out HFC instructors Elaine Louisell, Alison Buchanan, Dr. Ruth Haller, and the late Dr. Michael Daher for having a positive impact during his time at the College.

“I tell people all the time that no school improved my comprehension and writing abilities like HFC has. One of the reasons for this is Dr. Haller's engaging and transformative teaching style, which made writing enjoyable. She encouraged us to express ourselves creatively and effectively, helping me develop a strong foundation in writing,” he said. “Dr. Daher's guidance and insights allowed me to approach readings with a more critical mindset, enabling me to derive deeper meaning from the material. His approach to teaching challenged me, and ultimately left me with a robust set of skills that I continue to utilize in my academic pursuits.”

Truimphant return to Wayne State

Muflahi considered pursuing a career in clinical psychology. After observing the process behind court-mandated psychological treatment, he realized that clinical work wasn’t the best fit for him.

“I loved psychology, but I needed to find a different path within the field,” he said. “At that point, I was torn between my passion for psychology and my interest in business. While at UM-Dearborn, I heard about I-O psychology [Industrial and Organizational Psychology] from some former classmates and decided to take a Psychology at the Workplace course.”

That cemented his path. He returned to Wayne State for graduate work in I-O psychology, a discipline that focuses on organizations and the workplace. Wayne State’s doctoral program in I-O psychology is ranked 12th overall and third in terms of program culture, according to a study conducted by the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists.

“I was really fortunate that Wayne State looked at both my past and my recent accomplishments and said, ‘We would love to welcome you back,’ and they gave me a stipend,” recalled Muflahi. “It felt like home. I felt a sense of pride being welcomed back on the Wayne State campus.”

1st Wayne State psychology grad student to earn fellowship

Muflahi spoke about the NASA fellowship for his project called “Long-Distance Space Exploration Teams and Cognitive Integration.” This award will provide him $5,000 to fund his work. His interest in this project was sparked when he realized that I-O psychology could be applied to research that is relevant to NASA. Wayne State psychology professor Dr. Shanique Brown, Muflahi’s doctoral advisor, encouraged him to apply for the fellowship after helping him realize his research interests pertaining to work teams coincided with several of NASA’s research priorities.

Muflahi is the first Wayne State psychology student to earn this fellowship since its inception in 2018.

“This was exciting. You don’t traditionally think of psychological sciences when you think of NASA,” he said. “After reading the initial email, I just froze. I think when I snapped back to reality I was absolutely thrilled. I am passionate about my research. And I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment in knowing that the Michigan Space Grant fellowship team recognized the potential value of my work and was willing to not only recognize the value, but support me in pursuing it. And then I felt a sense of responsibility and urgency to make the most of this opportunity. So, I felt a ton of emotions – I was flooded with them! I’m really excited for the journey ahead!”

At Wayne State’s Work and Organizational Research on Cognition (WORC) Lab, under Brown’s supervision, Muflahi is conducting a study exploring cognitive integration within knowledge-diverse teams at NASA.

“Dr. Brown put this on my radar,” he said. “I often look to her for guidance, and I’m extremely fortunate to have found an advisor who has previously engaged in NASA-funded research. I’m eager to see the product of our work, and the implications it can have for the future of work and space exploration.”

Studying the psychological effects of space exploration

Muflahi wanted to explore certain aspects of the psychological impact of long-duration space exploration teams. LDSE teams could include individual members who bring unique expertise to the team. The team will need to process, combine, and use their collective expertise to support mission success.

“NASA releases their strategic plan every 4 years. From 2014 to their most recent 2022 plan, they’ve pushed to ensure effective management of NASA programs and operations to complete missions safely and successfully,” explained Muflahi. “My research looks to address NASA’s call for effective team functioning, but it is my honest belief that my research will benefit all organizations where knowledge sharing is a key outcome or ingredient to team effectiveness. Findings relating to the influence shared experience has on knowledge integration and team outcomes will undoubtedly be useful within organizations when it comes time for them to enhance employee onboarding, training and development programs, and even help them achieve mission success – however they define it.”

He continued: “Dr. Brown has a saying that’s something along the lines of ‘Our work is more than just creating well-trained teams, but teams that are also well.’ If I could have any job I wanted, I would want to do just that: Support organizations in enhancing the performance and wellbeing of their employees. I’m excited to get out there and leverage my research and background to support organizations. I want to find an organization that values my work and my background. Working for an organization like NASA, which values my pursuit of making work better for everyone involved, while pushing the boundaries of knowledge, would be a great place for me to work.”