Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Lina Abdulnoor: Cuyamaca College alumna has sights set on medical school

Lina Abdulnoor
She is a research assistant at UC San Diego’s Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, she was invited to the prestigious National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University, and she once served as an emergency room volunteer at UCSD Medical Center – Hillcrest. 

Meet Cuyamaca College alumna Lina Abdulnoor, who earned her bachelor’s degree in physiology and neuroscience from UCSD with the Class of 2018. Now she has her sights set on medical school.

Not bad for an Iraq War refugee whose family was targeted during the height of the chaos and who didn’t know more than a few words of English when she moved to El Cajon in the spring of 2013. 

“I try not to worry too much about all that,” Abdulnoor said. “I’m mostly focused on my studies and getting into medical school.”

“Lina is an inspiration,” said Cuyamaca College Biology Professor Kathryn Nette, who also serves as chair of the Science & Engineering Department. “Despite all of the incredible challenges in her life, Lina did all the right things, participating in every event that we held and in multiple student laboratory research programs. She went far over and above the minimum requirements as a student, and that will pay off for her in the future. I have no doubt that she will achieve all of her goals in life, and that she will be a role model for future Cuyamaca students.”

Abdulnoor’s story is similar to tens of thousands of others who have thrived at the Rancho San Diego campus since it opened 40 years ago. In 2017-18 alone, approximately 800 graduates earned a total of nearly 1,300 degrees and certificates, many of them transferring to some of the top universities and four-year colleges in the country.

Describing Abdulnoor as determined would be an understatement. Born in Baghdad, Abdulnoor was 12 when the U.S.  invaded Iraq and bloodshed ravaged her homeland. With kidnappings, daily explosions, assassinations and suicide bombings plaguing her country, Abdulnoor did her best to focus despite living in a war zone.

“My life was all about studying and trying to stay alive,” she said. “But school was my priority. I refused to give up.”

Even after fleeing to Jordan to escape the death threats targeting her family of Iraqi Christians. In the Hashemite kingdom’s capital of Amman, the family applied for refugee status with the United Nations. The Abdulnoors weren’t choosey in selecting a new home. “We just wanted to start a new life where we could be safe.”

Two years after leaving Iraq, the family was granted permission to move to the United States. Like thousands of Iraqi refugees before them, the family settled in El Cajon. 

“I was lost,” said Abdulnoor, 27. “I didn’t know where to start. But everybody told me I should go to Cuyamaca College, so I went to the Admissions Office, took an assessment test for math and English, met with a counselor, developed an education plan and started taking classes in the fall of 2013.”

Determined to work in the medical profession, Abdulnoor loaded up on courses in physics, biology, and chemistry. Within no time, she was working as a math tutor at Grossmont College. Two years after enrolling at Cuyamaca, she transferred to UC San Diego.

“In the beginning it was hard because English is not my first language and the education system was not the same as where I come from,” Abdulnoor said. “It was challenging. But I had support from my professors, and I worked closely with counseling to make sure I was on the right track.”

Her accomplishments at UCSD have been nothing short of stellar. Abdulnoor was invited to present her work at the 2018 National Collegiate Research Conference from Jan. 18 through 20 at Harvard University. Her topic: electrical synapses in the central nervous system of leeches, research that can lead to a better understanding of animal learning. The title of her research: Identification and Characterization of an Adenosine Receptor Involved in the Modulation of Neuronal Gap Junctions.
Said Abdulnoor:

“My experience at Cuyamaca College was very important in where I am today. It gave me a chance to improve my language, and the biology program was excellent. It really helped me focus on writing and research. Professor Nette’s standards were very high and her focus and teaching style was very similar to what I would find at UCSD.”