Updated 12:26 p.m. May 14
Ranad Humeidi found a home in the science labs at the University of Texas at San Antonio after moving here her senior year of high school to escape the Syrian civil war.
She graduates Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Humeidi grew up in Aleppo, Syria. In 2013, when she was 16, the civil war reached her town.
“They started kidnapping students, mainly female sometimes, and they blackmailed their parents to pay them a lot of money, and there was no security; there’s no police,” Humeidi said.
After one of her classmates was kidnapped, her parents decided it was too dangerous for her to go to school.
“There was a lot of bombings (and) death,” she said. “So I stayed at home.
“... It was in January, so it was a whole semester of me staying home and not going to school until we left the city.”
After a semester barricaded at home in Aleppo, Humeidi and her parents joined family already living in San Antonio. Her older brother and sister were students at UTSA, and they had other relatives nearby.
She enrolled at Tom C. Clark High School for her senior year, still reeling from the devastation of Syria.
“I didn’t speak English,” she said. “I was that foreign student in the middle of the class. At that time of my life we were hearing a lot bad news back home; a lot of my friends passed away. It was just an awful, awful period of my life.”
A year later, she enrolled at UTSA so she could continue to live with her parents and older siblings.
“I watched a lot of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ that year. And it’s true you learn a lot of English just based on TV. So a lot of the words that are not mentioned in ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ I don’t know them,” Humeidi said. “At that point in college, I was picking up English very quickly. I think college was completely different just because when I started (there were) big classrooms (and) no one knew each other, so I was like everyone else.”
Her favorite class as a freshman was basic chemistry, where Professor Victoria Dougherty encouraged her.
“I believed in myself because someone else believed in me,” Humeidi said.
After her sophomore year, she asked another chemistry professor Michael Doyle to be her research advisor.
“She’s extremely independent, wants to be the very best at what she can be, and, in the future, I think you’re going to see her at the top of any list of people who has been very, very successful coming out of San Antonio,” said Doyle, surrounded by the buzz of machinery in his catalysis lab.
For the next two years, his lab was her home away from home.
“I spent more time in here than in my own bedroom,” Humeidi said.
These days, she said she tries not to let news out of Syria — like the suspected chemical weapons attack on Douma — overwhelm her.
“When I moved here, I watched the news a lot and got so, so depressed. So I don’t watch it to that extent anymore. Whatever happened recently, I watched and I had a lot of assignments going on, a lot of school going on, and that night I cried so much and I got so depressed so I stopped watching the news again,” she said.
She’s excited for Boston’s colder weather, and the chance to work as a research assistant studying cancer in the labs at the Broad Institute.
“I went there for two days and I saw everyone so focused and the lab had so many instruments — expensive instruments — and they’re like toys to a lot of scientists,” she said, with a grin.
She’s trying to decide between going to medical school and getting her doctorate, but she knows she wants to spend her career researching disease.
“I like to do something for a greater purpose,” she said.
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille
CORRECTION: The name of Ranad Humeidi's high school has been updated. Humeidi enrolled at Tom C. Clark High School for her senior year.