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Scholarship for Muslim women honors pioneering scientist

DETROIT – When it came to the pursuit of a scientific career, Tasneem Essader found forces pulling her and pushing her away: She drew inspiration from her mother’s work in chemistry, but the first discouragement of her engineer father, who thought that they should do something else. She was inspired by women engineers she met, but took little girls around her in advanced high school science classes.

Essader, who feels strongly connected with her Islamic faith, also struggling to find the right fit among a variety of identity on the basis of exchanges as they looked to help alleviate the financial burden of college.

Then, an uncle informed her about the Adawia Alousi Scholars program, and the obstacles began to fall away. They find that fit, and a kinship with the scholarship program’s namesake.

“After reading about Dr. Alousi’s life, I felt like the struggles I faced because I was in the field I want to pursue are validated,” Essader wrote in her essay application, “that someone who has gone through the same struggles as me and there is something to make it easier for future generations.”

The fair, which are located on the Dearborn, Michigan-based Center for Arab American Philanthropy with the money of Alousi’s family trust, is believed to be the first of its kind for Muslim-American women in the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Essader is in the first class of 11 recipients of the scholarship, the name of a scientist who helped develop a breakthrough drug treatment for heart failure in the 1980s.

Alousi, who died in 2010, was an Iraq-born Muslim who had to fight to earn recognition in a male-dominated field. She wanted money from her trust to go to the charity.

“We thought about who my aunt was, what she would want. She was the most passionate about her science and Islam — the exhibition reflects these passions,” said cousin Amin Alousi, a professor of medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Alousi said his aunt pharmacological research is the backbone for a new class of drugs for heart failure — and she and her colleagues were the first to use these drugs on the market. Still, he added, she is faced with discrimination is “a foreign-born woman.”

“She really did have to be vocal,” Alousi said. “In all scientific papers, they did not want to be recognized as a lead author.”

Alousi, said the scholarship include grade requirements, but he added, “We want people with a compelling story,” including “overcoming difficulties.”

Essader, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, wants to “carry forward Dr. Alousi the spirit through the breaking of the stereotypes around people who look like me.” Essader, says her father has grown more encouraging when he sees her passion for her intended career in biomedical engineering.

Another recipient, Teeba Jihad, said her “family was attacked” in her native Iraq as members of the Shiite sect of Islam in a time of war. After coming to the US at the age of 11, she is faced with verbal abuse and criticism for her modest clothing. Jihad, who had a cancer scare in 2013, is the study of the biomolecular sciences at the University of New York and has worked in a lab developing treatments of breast cancer using magnetic, nano-sized particles. The scholarship, she wrote, allow her to “continue to create a positive image of young Muslim women.”

Alousi hopes that the recipients’ performance will help to dispel misconceptions.

“The bigger story of how often people in the West of the United States wrongly assume that Muslim women are uneducated, not successful, or is not pronounced — I think the bigger story that we hope to overcome with this scholarship and the young women it supports,” he said.

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Karoub is a member of the AP of Race and Ethnicity Team, and often writes about religion. Follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/jeffkaroub and find more of his work at https://apnews.com/search/jeff%20karoub . Sign up for the AP’s weekly newsletter showcasing our best reporting from the Midwest and Texas: http://apne.ws/2u1RMfv .

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