Augusta University Honors student Asma Daoudi has a winning problem.
She can’t stop.
On Nov. 14, she was named Student of the Year for all four-year institutions by the National Collegiate Honors Council at the organization’s annual conference in Chicago. Before that, Daoudi, a senior in the cell and molecular biology track, also won the conference’s student poster competition award in the category of Health Sciences for her research into bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw (BRONJ).
At the time, she said she remembered thinking, “What are the odds of winning two awards at the same conference?”
But for Daoudi, president of the Honors Program Student Association and vice president of the Georgia Collegiate Honors Council, the odds are rarely a factor in determining success.
According to Dr. Tim Sadenwasser, director of Augusta University’s Honors Program, the Honors senior makes her own luck.
“It’s been a real pleasure having Asma in the Honors Program,” Sadenwasser said, speaking from his office in the Quad Wall Building. “She approaches her work with great maturity and knows both how to get along with people and how to excel at what she’s doing.”
That combination is an integral part of generating exceptional research. But it also speaks to Daoudi’s personality.
That, too, is winning.
“Last November, we went to the Georgia Undergraduate Research Conference down in Statesboro with another student, Anna Schaeffer,” Sadenwasser said. “She and Asma had spoken maybe a handful of times before, but by the end of the day, they were hugging goodbye and exchanging contact information.”
This year, he said, Daoudi and he traveled with another Honors student, Johnna Kelley, and the results were similar.
“They’re very different personalities,” Sadenwasser said. “I think they’d spoken maybe once before the trip, but by the end of it, they were saying things like ‘we have to meet for lunch on Thursday.’ I think that’s just the kind of person Asma is.”
For the record, Daoudi also won first place in the Health Sciences category at GURC. (Read: Honors Program winning awards)
After winning in Chicago, she said she “never wanted to leave” the Windy City. Admittedly, though, she said that had more to do with the grandeur of the city than the thought of winning.
“I thought at that moment, ‘here is a girl from a local, four-year institution in the South being recognized in my favorite city,’” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
She also said her award was a great honor, but that having been named Student of the Year came as a complete shock.
In many ways, that surprise best sums up what Daoudi’s fellow Honors students find most charming about her.
She routinely excels, but rarely expects to.
She said the Honors Program has had a lot to do with that history of success.
“It has sort of defined my undergraduate experience,” Daoudi said. “Being part of the Honors Program makes you part of a community. We share support, concerns and goals with each other. I feel like it’s helped me mature myself as a scientist, too.”
Part of that maturity, she said, also came from Dr. Mohammed Elsalanty – her principal investigator.
“When I first started working in [Dr. Elsalanty’s] lab, he came to me and said ‘you’ll be doing graduate-level research, so I expect graduate-level work from you,’” Daoudi said. “I told him I didn’t have the kind of experience graduate researchers do.”
According to Daoudi, Elsalanty’s response was “not my problem.”
But rather than taking offense to Elsalanty’s challenge, Daoudi said she rose to it.
“I looked him in the eye and said ‘challenge accepted,’” she said, smiling.
According to Sadenwasser, responding to challenges is where Daoudi excels most.
“Asma is somebody who really takes great initiative,” Sadenwasser said. “When she started her thesis project, she had pretty much mapped out every step of it. She was already working with Dr. Elsalanty on the Health Sciences Campus, and she just knew what she was going to do.”
Daoudi is the first person in her immediate family to pursue medical research. Having graduated overseas, she said that after moving to the U.S., her parents gave her one crucial piece of advice that has guided her ever since.
“They would tell me ‘this is the land of opportunity,’” she said. “They said I could be anyone I wanted to be here and to never let others tell me differently.”
That philosophy has obviously carried over into her research, as well.
She said she currently has no plans to specialize in dental research after graduation, despite her burgeoning research portfolio in the field.
“For me, it’s not about studying dentistry,” she said. “It’s about studying the human body. The more I know about the body as a whole, the better my research will be no matter what field I choose.”
Daoudi said she isn’t completely sure what field she’d like to go into after graduating, but for now, she’s leaning towards medicine.
Regardless of what field she eventually chooses, though, one thing is certain: it will likely be a win for all of us.