Oncology, cancer genomics research on agenda for UH grad

October 28, 2005

HOUSTON, Oct. 28, 2005 - When Mohamad Halawi left war-torn southern Lebanon a few years ago, he had virtually no resources but unlimited optimism. Since then, this University of Houston graduate's hard work and intelligence have paid off with an NIH fellowship, more than a quarter of a million dollars in scholarship money and numerous other honors.

Halawi immigrated alone to the United States in 2001 at the age of 17 with only $1,000 and worked more than 65 hours a week at two jobs while taking a full load of classes. A 2005 UH graduate with a degree in biochemical and biophysical sciences, he was ready to start medical school upon graduating from the university and finishing a second summer interning at Harvard Medical School. However, while he longs to embark on the challenges of obtaining a medical degree with a full Jack Kent Cooke (JKC) Foundation Graduate Scholarship he received this summer for medical school, a second tremendous opportunity from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) presented him with an offer he couldn't refuse - a one-year fellowship to investigate his favorite subjects of genomics and bioinformatics under the mentorship of Francis Collins, director of the NIH-National Human Genome Research Institute.

"The NIH fellowship is not only a culmination of my undergraduate studies, but it is also an opportunity to learn cutting-edge technologies and develop an interdisciplinary perspective to answer challenging questions," Halawi said. "It will certainly be an asset to my plan of pursuing thesis work during medical school."

Halawi, who was a member of the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, ultimately plans to become a physician-scientist who practices in oncology and studies cancer genomics and bioinformatics. Ted Estess, dean of the UH Honors College, knows Halawi through his numerous extracurricular activities and said that the many honors and scholarships that Halawi has been awarded have always been well earned by his hard work, self-motivation and ambitious determination.

"We are excited to have Mohamad as the first UH student to receive the JKC Graduate Scholarship," said Margaret Watson, assistant dean in the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies. "Each university in the United States can nominate two students for this honor. This year more than a thousand students were nominated, and Mohamad was one of the 76 awardees for 2005-2006."

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, established in 2000, has as its mission to help young people with exceptional promise to reach their full potential through education. Its scholarships identify and support recipients in financial need who qualify and demonstrate excellence in academic endeavors and extracurricular activities. In addition to his latest JKC honor, Halawi was awarded a JKC Undergraduate Scholarship during his junior year of college that covered all his educational expenses, from tuition and books to housing.

"Much of the excitement of my journey in the United States started in my junior year," Halawi said. "I went from more than 65 hours of paid work each week, to 65 hours of volunteer work. Now I am able to do things I've never dreamed of doing before."

In addition to his two JKC scholarships and NIH fellowship, Halawi recently was selected as the most outstanding member from among Golden Key International Honor Society's 350 chapters worldwide to be named the 2005 International Student Leader of the Year. He also was named a fellow for the Merage Foundation for the American Dream, created to recognize promising immigrants, providing him with a two-year stipend that he has earmarked for attending scientific and medical conferences. Other honors include being named a Walter and Adelheid Hohenstein Fellow by the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, as well as a Golden Key International Honor Society Graduate Scholar, emerging as one of 12 worldwide victors from a pool of hundreds of candidates.

"No one came over and tapped him on the shoulder," Estess said. "He rather took the initiative, and now he has brought great honor to the university by the number and quality of the national awards that he has received. We are very proud of him."
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About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with nearly 400 faculty members and approximately 4,000 students, offers bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, geosciences, mathematics and physics have internationally recognized collaborative research programs in association with UH interdisciplinary research centers, Texas Medical Center institutions and national laboratories.

For more information about UH, visit the university's Newsroom at www.uh.edu/newsroom.

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University of Houston

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