[Graduates leave legacy of community efforts]
VCU Graduation Stories 2013: Mohamed Shaaban
In August of 2009, Mohamed Shaaban stood on the walkway at Monroe Park in a crowd of fellow VCU freshmen, feeling lost and alone. Welcome Week was in full festive swing, but Shaaban didn’t know anyone and felt wary of his rambunctious fellow students, who appeared energized and confident in their new surroundings. They seemed to somehow know each other already. Shaaban had only been living in the United States for a couple of months, his family having emigrated from Egypt in the summer, and he had yet to make any friends in his new country.
That was fine, Shaaban resolved. He would be joining the pre-med track at VCU, determined to follow in both of his parents’ footsteps and become a doctor. He’d be busy enough without a social life. He had much to accomplish without a bunch of distractions.
Four years later, as Shaaban prepares to graduate from VCU, he remembers that brief episode in his life with amused wonder. The urge to go it alone faded fast. Within hours of that low point, Shaaban began to make new friends, and his time at VCU ultimately will be marked both by his academic success and his engagement with his fellow students and the larger community. His legacy includes serving as one of the founders of two vibrant organizations with promising futures – Emerging Health Care Leaders, an organization for undergraduate students with pre-health majors, and United 2 Heal, which gathers surplus medical supplies from area medical organizations and ships them to countries where they are needed.
“I’m so grateful that things turned out the way that they did,” Shaaban said.
Shaaban is one of the many examples of community-minded students set to graduate from VCU this week. They resisted the temptation to make college a solo expedition, instead finding ways to connect with others through service along the route. The university’s focus on engagement, such as through its Division of Community Engagement, produces what amounts to a force of young volunteers, committed and eager to contribute in communities near and far - from next door to the other side of the world.
Some students, such as Shaaban, create their own avenues to service, tailoring new programs to their vision. Others work within the structure of existing organizations, strengthening them with enthusiasm and fresh ideas.
Emerging Healthcare Leaders, one of the projects that Shaaban helped found, has received contributions from hundreds of undergraduate students, including those who have participated in local health education efforts at area schools and community events. And United 2 Heal counts not just students but faculty members among its contributors.
Stephanie Goldberg, M.D., an assistant professor of surgery who has worked with the organization, said the commitment students have made to United 2 Heal has been astounding. The project requires a great deal of its volunteers, who develop partnerships to acquire the supplies, sort the supplies, find storage, arrange the shipments and work with organizations on the receiving end. Goldberg said the organization, despite the youth of its leaders, has demonstrated maturity and savvy from the outset. Shaaban has been crucial to that.
“There’s something about this kid,” Goldberg said. “You meet him and you just want to help him.”
Shaaban recognizes how much he would have missed if he’d stuck solely to individual pursuits. For instance, he’ll never forget the “intense” moment he watched a video screen as a delivery truck arrived at a refugee camp thousands of miles away with medical supplies he had helped procure and ship.
“The coolest thing about my college experience is that I didn’t just look at it academically,” Shaaban said. “If I had, so much would have been lost.”
Shaaban will attend the VCU School of Medicine in the fall.
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[Photo: Mohamed Shaaban takes a break from loading medical supplies bound for a hospital in Egypt. The hospital treats children with cancer whose parents cannot afford to pay for treatment. Shaaban was working with United 2 Heal, an organization he helped launch.]