Alums Shahad ’11, Mais ’12, and Mohammed ’14 Alwan were recipients of the New American scholarships, which provides need-based scholarships to refugee families.
How did you all become a St. Francis family? Faten says, “We moved from Iraq in 2004 because of the war there, and spent four years in a refugee camp in Jordan until the UN was able to help us get to America. We picked Louisville because of all the universities here. When we came here the girls were in Shawnee High School, and then Ky Refugee Ministries helped get us to St. Francis.”
Describe your paths after leaving St. Francis.
Mais: “I won the Templeton Scholarship and am a senior at Hanover as a BioChem major. I’m on the pre-med track and will be taking next year to volunteer at Norton Hospital.”
Shahad: “I graduated last year from Spalding with a Natural Science degree and will be going to Dental School next year to be a dentist or to get my Master’s in Public Health.”
Mohammed: “I am a sophomore at U of L with a major in Biology, and I hope to go to med school, too. I am playing club soccer, too.”
Looking back at your time at St. Francis, what stands out? Do you recall a specific teacher or friend that influenced you in some way?
Mais and Shahad both say, “Terri White.” Mohammed laughs and agrees, “Yes, Terri White.” “She’s the one who is like a second family to us. She had us do extra writing sessions and reading sessions with us. She even let us stay after school to do homework with her,” said Shahad.
“Kit Llewellyn helped us all. She even took Shadad and me on trips to visit colleges. I would never have applied for the Hanover scholarship. Kit made me do that,” laughed Mais.
Mais continued, pointing out something that really stood out for them all, “the diversity at St. Francis helped us, too, since everyone was different, it was easier for us to fit in.”
How did you all three end up in the medical field?
(All three laugh and gesture to their mother, Dr. Faten Abdullah.)
Faten, a doctor in Iraq, worked to reestablish herself as a physician here in the U.S. Faten studied at home for two years for her medical license and then spent the next three years in Norfolk, Virginia, for her residency. “I went by myself for my career. These three were all set in St. Francis and college; no one wanted to move to Virginia with me. So for those years, we were all in school. Me in my residency, Mohammed at St. Francis, Mais and Shadad in college and my husband, Muhannad, studying for his CPA license.” Faten is now a primary care physician with Norton Healthcare.
“Also, Mr. Word made me love biology, now I am a bio major and want to go to medical school,” said Mohammed.
“The community service helped me see that I wanted to help people,” said Mais.
What advice would you give to St. Francis students and new alumni?
“My advice would be to stay connected. Someone from St. Francis can help you, make an introduction, help you skip an initial step in your career,” Shadad said. “Don’t be scared.
St. Francis prepares you well for college. You will be fine,” said Mohammed. Mais agreed, saying, “Yes, the transition to college is smooth after St. Francis. I was definitely prepared.” “Research papers are much easier for me than for other students who didn’t go to such a good high school. The volume of writing helped a great deal. All those papers for Miron paid off!” said Mohammed.
In closing, Faten remembers, “My children were all struggling, crying, having such a hard time those first days. Everyone, every single person at St. Francis, helped my children. They went step by step, helping them, supporting them. I love St. Francis. We all love St. Francis.”