Zaheer Choudhury (Class of 2018)

  • junior Microbiology major with a Premedical Studies co-major
  • minors in Global Health; Ethics, Society and Culture
  • from Nashville, TN
  • President of the Muslim Students' Association; member of Model United Nations
  • member of the Mallory-Wilson Center Student Advisory Board
  • volunteer with the Opening Minds through Art program (Scripps Gerontology Center)
"I started becoming involved with the Mallory-Wilson Student Advisory Board last year. It is nice to be behind the scenes, to be able to give our thoughts about premedical events and programs. The part I like most is giving prospective students advice and hearing their questions."

Why Miami?

"Miami was the perfect-sized institution in terms of the campus and classes. I felt I'd have ample opportunities to interact with faculty and get involved in research. Of course, I also just loved the feel of the campus and the scenery and was fortunate to receive a lot of financial support from both Miami and external associated scholarships.

"Before coming to Miami, I looked at all the majors offered and felt that microbiology was one of the most interesting and medically relevant options for me. It also wasn't as mainstream, meaning that it set me apart from students majoring in such things as biology and chemistry.

Model UN members pose during one of their activities (Zaheer Choudhury, back row, left).

"Since I was the only person from my high school who chose Miami, at first I didn't really know anyone. My first semester went pretty well academically, however, and I began finding my niche through many new friends and joining several student organizations and clubs, particularly the Muslim Students' Association and Model United Nations.

"I think the faculty are what I like best about Miami. I remember during orientation first semester, when I needed to find another course to fill up my schedule. I saw a global health class, GHS 101, and thought it might be cool, so I signed up. Taught by Cameron Hay-Rollins, it was a class for a minor that most people don't take until their third year. I really enjoyed the subject matter. It gave me a sort of passion for what I really want to do in the future, and I felt a greater drive to get through university and arrive at a point in my life when I can positively affect a lot of people and do something bigger than myself!"

Best Miami Experiences

"The most memorable role I've had at Miami is being the president of the Muslim Students' Association (MSA). My position started last academic year and has continued this year as well. It was my responsibility to revive the organization from a period inactivity, so it was a lot of work at the beginning. Looking back on it, I am really proud of what I was able to do.

"The key defining event of my involvement with MSA was last spring (2016), when we joined with another student group, the Association of Jewish Students, to host an event called 'Feast in the Mideast'. We worked on it for a long time, and we were able to gather over 120 people in attendance. We also invited some high-profile comedians that did a stand-up act together. We funded their appearance through Associated Student Government (ASG), and it was an incredibly memorable evening, probably the most memorable thing I've accomplished here at Miami. I just feel that being able to revive an inactive organization and collaborate with another major student group has really pushed out some good karma!

"Elizabeth Lokon, an adjunct professor with the Scripps Gerontology Center, is my research professor. In my freshman year she encouraged me to volunteer with the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program at Scripps, and I've continued it during my sophomore and now my junior years as well. I really liked the idea of OMA, which is to act as a non-pharmaceutical intervention for elders with dementia. I also had a research project that focused on this topic, involving some complicated but fascinating biometric data.

"My academic advisor is Kelly Abshire, a senior lecturer in microbiology. I was an Undergraduate Assistant (UA) for her GHS 101 course, Introduction to Global Health, and I've really enjoyed that experience and her mentorship a lot. One of the most important pieces of advice she gave to me was about becoming a doctor — being able to put yourself in the patient's shoes. This is something that I think is often forgotten today. A doctor assumes the position of higher knowledge and knows what's right, but often they aren't really seeing things from the patient's perspective.

"My microbiology major, premedical studies co-major, and especially my global health minor have shown me a lot about why certain medical interventions that were supposed to work actually failed. Beyond the medical explanations, there are also a lot of different anthropological and psychological underpinnings associated with the global health minor that have helped explain this issue. My experiences with OMA have made me more in tune with why helping other people is so good. It's something higher than making yourself or even them feel better — there's also connecting with people as well, being able to talk to patients and help them pull out of the conditions that they're depressed about.

"I started becoming involved with the Mallory-Wilson Student Advisory Board last year. It is nice to be behind the scenes, to be able to give our thoughts about premedical events and programs. The part I like most is giving prospective students advice and hearing their questions. I remember being in their position, and I enjoyed talking with upperclassmen for their advice. Whether or not prospective students decide to come to Miami, I try to give them the best advice possible!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Microbiology mainly focuses on bacteria that cause diseases, and it's the primary science in preventative medicine because of its dedication to vaccines and antibiotics. I found learning how bacteria grow is the best way to be able to combat them. It's more than just learning the human body, it's learning the pathogens that infect it. I think that's a very important part of being a scientist — it's learning more about diseases and how they can be stopped.

"Having a minor forces you to explore other areas of interest that you might have that you can't really devote all your time to due to your major requirements. I always wanted a minor that wasn't as medically scientific as my majors, so I didn't want to go into something like molecular biology, mathematics, or anything like that.

"With Miami's liberal arts options, I'm able to have two minors: Global Health and Ethics, Society and Culture. After I chose my global health minor, I learned that a lot of diseases that affect poorer countries are bacterial in origin and are very preventable, such as cholera and malaria. There is a reason they exist in poorer countries and not more wealthy countries where they can be more easily prevented.

"I became interested in the Ethics, Society and Culture minor after taking PHL 131 - Introduction to Ethics. I took the class just out of curiosity, and ended up liking it a lot. It made me realize that learning about ethics is not only important in various scenarios in medicine, law, etc. but also for becoming a better, more ethical human being.

"Whatever profession anyone goes into, it's really important to specialize in something and to have general knowledge about other things. People may watch the news and read things on the internet to feel that they've become an expert in a certain subject, but when you have a liberal arts education, you get to be briefly introduced to a lot of different subjects. You are also constantly reminded that it's just an introduction — you don't know everything about that subject. I think this is very important this day and age, where there is so much information in the media and people have so much information at their fingertips. It really helps to have a general background that still informs you that there is a lot more you don't know!"

Engaging the Community; Building New Friendships

"Throughout high school I was involved with Model United Nations and continued it here at Miami. We have weekly meetings to discuss things that are happening in the world. Since I'm a science major, I really like going to the meeting to hear different student perspectives, particularly from political science and international studies majors. We also create different committees, which are focused on historical, current, or completely fictional issues, and have mock UN-style conferences.

"For example, at the last Model UN conference we discussed the appearance of a huge influenza epidemic, one which had no cure and was killing people across the world. In another we had a historical committee set during the American Revolutionary War, and in another we were doing China's Cultural Revolution. We represent the only people who can handle the problem and, through roleplay, must try to work in teams to figure out how to solve it. It's interesting and a lot of fun.

"Being the president of Miami's Muslim Students' Association during this deeply divided political time has really given me a lot of insight into why people think the way they do. At our faith-based discussion meetings we examine certain religious verses, and generally what we pull from these is that we, as Muslims, cannot really blame people for their fears or actions. Some people these days think badly of Muslims, but the reason is that they probably have not seen a positive counterexample in their lives. When the media is so full of these negative representations, it just seems as though they outweigh the positive ones — but it's really the opposite.

"This realization has helped me learn how to lead my life in a way that doesn't shy away from my identity as a Muslim. We need be respectful of others no matter what they think. That's the only way to truly address someone's conceptions, true or false. Our hope is that they will treat us respectfully as well.

Members of Miami Hillel and the Muslim Students' Association pose during a 'Standup for Peace' event. Zaheer Choudhury is on the right.

"As the MSA president, at first I just wanted to help build a community for Muslims on campus, since we are a very small population here and we have certain requirements for prayer and other things. It's important for us to be able to reach out to other Muslim students, letting them know that they have a community here and are welcome. If they need to talk to anyone, they have myself and other MSA members. However, I have been trying to engage in more positive and cooperative programs as president.

"One of the hardest things to deal with is when people have misconceptions, which cannot be addressed if they do not come to our events. At least we can tell people how we feel, so I think it is important to reach out to people. We can talk to them, do more, and create lasting relationships when we engage with them more directly.

"Miami Hillel and the Association of Jewish Students are two really great organizations that we've partnered with, and I've made good friends there. We've gotten off to such a great start, and I'm looking forward to making friends with a lot of other student organizations. We have some plans already in place and some new ones this spring."

Advice to Students

"It seems like a lot of people, when they are freshmen, are too nervous to seek out the things here that they would enjoy most. Definitely go to MegaFair and spend a good amount of time to see all the organizations that might interest you.

Don't constrain yourself by sticking to just one area of study. One of the biggest things about college is realizing that there is so much knowledge that can be gained. I always wish I could stay in college indefinitely, because then I would be able to take all the classes that interest me. But since I can't, I should at least take as many interesting classes as I can. I feel I can always learn more about science or business in my graduate studies, but there are other areas — such as philosophy, religion or anthropology — that are very important to study as well. If something interests you, what makes it important is that you want to do it!"

[September 2016]