Apr 152009
Authors: Shelley Woll

Waking up at 7:30 a.m. to meet with the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce Bioscience Committee, sitting down for an interview with the Collegian and then working on a presentation for a biomedical science seminar class is not how most 22-year-olds spend their birthdays, but that’s exactly how Hamid Gari passed the day Tuesday.

But then again, Gari is not like most 22-year-olds –/he is one out of a handful of U.S. students chosen to study biotechnology at the University of Cambridge.

Gari was accepted along with three Gates-Cambridge Scholars — two from Stanford University and one from Yale University — into the prestigious master’s in Bioscience Enterprise program at the University of Cambridge. He will begin attending classes there next October after graduating rom CSU this May with a degree in Biomedical Sciences.

The University of Cambridge in England is one of the oldest universities in the world and is known for its strong math and sciences department as well as the staggering 83 Nobel Laureates it’s produced since 1904. The program usually only accepts four to five students from the U.S. every year.

“I’m very excited and of course nervous at the same time,” Gari said about moving to Cambridge in August.

“I looked up the reputation of Cambridge, and it’s kind of one of those universities that you don’t think a lot of people have heard of it, but when you look at it in a world scale, it’s pretty/up there with Harvard and Yale.”

Gari’s scholarship adviser, who discussed multiple programs in the UK with Gari, said his acceptance into the program was a validation of both Gari and CSU.

“That’s an extremely competitive program to get in to,” said Heather Esterday, the fellowship adviser for the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships Programs. “It’s great to know that CSU has this caliber of students.”

Gari moved to Fort Collins five years ago from his native Saudi Arabia to finish up his high school degree and to attend his parent’s alma mater, CSU.

The transition of education systems was eye opening to Gari, who says the U.S. isn’t as strict as the Middle East –/where manners he said, are stressed above all else.

“The biggest thing that I noticed in the education systems, in Saudi Arabia they taught you manners and to respect your elders before they would teach you anything else,” he said.

“And so when I came here, and I sat in a classroom where everyone was talking at the same time and you didn’t have to raise your hand to ask a question . I was kind of frightened because I was afraid (the teachers) might hit me.”

He has taken initiative during his college career by getting involved with as many research opportunities as he can, including working on the human genome project in Australia, investigating parameters of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at Stanford, as well as developing antiviral drugs against the flavivirus here at CSU.

“I’m pretty good at finding these opportunities,” Gari said.

Principle Investigator Brian Geiss, who works with Gari at CSU, urges students to get involved with programs on campus.

“I’ve seen a lot of students come through CSU and almost all of them have been excellent, especially the ones who really take the initiative and do these type of research programs. I think (Gari) will do great at Cambridge.”

Currently Geiss oversees Gari and another student volunteer in the CSU research lab, who is trying to identify new drugs against viruses such as West Nile, dengue and yellow fever.

While at Cambridge, Gari will study exploitable biotechnology.

“It blends the business aspect of biotech companies. They’ll teach you marketing, business strategies and management. The whole goal of the program is to produce someone who can ultimately be an executive, consultant, or some sort of entrepreneur in the field,” Gari said.

Biotechnology is the use of organisms by man, according to the Biotechnology Institute, which includes cloning, genetics and cell biology.

In Brian Geiss’s lab where Gari works, there’s a picture of a little girl sitting next to her father who is infected by dengue virus. That image, Gari said, is his inspiration for entering this field.

Staff writer Shelley Woll can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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