Students of the year: Abdul El-Sayed

BY EMILY BARTON
Daily Staff Writer
Published April 7, 2009

There are a few things that incite an inferiority complex in University students when comparing themselves to their Ivy League peers. One is the dismal number of Rhodes Scholars named at the University.

SAM WOLSON/Daily
SAM WOLSON/Daily

This year, though, Abdul El-Sayed was named the University’s first Rhodes Scholar since 2004.

El-Sayed was vice president of the Muslim Student Association, starting defenseman for the lacrosse team and member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, but that’s only what he achieved as an undergraduate.

As a graduate student in the School of Public Health, El-Sayed traveled to Peru through Project Suyana to help educate and work with the people there to decrease maternal mortality. He also helped found a volunteer organization called Healing at Home.

El-Sayed was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship in November, which will send him to Oxford University in the fall for two years to complete his master’s degree in science before returning to the University to finish a doctorate degree and medical school.

As a second-year medical student, El-Sayed is pursuing research in three different areas of epidemiology. He is looking at social determinants in Arab-American health, the possible cause of children born with open spines in Guatemala and determinants of neurological disorders in Ethiopia.

El-Sayed said that ultimately he hopes to be a doctor and a professor, spending 80 percent of his time researching and 20 percent of his time in clinical practice.

“For me, it’s really the nexus of everything,” he said about epidemiology, the study of health on a population-wide scale.

El-Sayed said that as a commuter student during his undergraduate years, he would leave for class at 8 a.m. and didn’t return to Whitmore Lake until after lacrosse practice, sometimes getting home as late as 1:30 a.m. He had no choice but to stay on campus all day, which gave him plenty of time to figure out exactly what he wanted to do after graduation.

Epidemiology Prof. Sandro Galea inspired El-Sayed to think about medicine on a larger scale than just helping individuals as a doctor.

Galea said El-Sayed first approached him about doing research in epidemiology right before the start of his senior year. Normally, Galea wouldn’t accept undergraduates as researchers, but El-Sayed was different.

“He very soon made himself invaluable,” Galea said. “We have worked closely ever since and I have not regretted any minute of it.”