Azam Basheer, BS’05 (Flor), Biology

A combination of a portrait and illustration of a man.

(Illustration: Matthew Hancock)

Today, he’s literally a brain surgeon. FDU laid the foundation for his future in medicine and, in 2019, recognized Basheer with the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, presented to a graduate who has achieved exceptional success in their profession.

FDU Magazine: How did you navigate applying to college?

Azam Basheer: Being the first in my family to go to college, I felt completely lost. While my parents were quite supportive, they lacked the necessary knowledge and resources.

I called the FDU admissions and financial-aid offices several times a week asking questions and seeking advice. Everyone I met or spoke to was supportive and helpful. They are my unsung heroes. Those offices quietly work behind the scenes and don’t expect anything in return, yet they impact the lives of so many young eager adults.

After I was admitted, came the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program and counselors. We met on a weekly basis for academic, personal and financial counseling, including tutoring. Marjorie Hall, the retired director of EOF, was one of my counselors. Her advice and guidance were invaluable. She constantly advocated for me.

FDU Magazine: What’s your most vivid college memory?

AB: My whole family, all seven of them, helped me move into my first dorm room, when all I had was a laundry basket, a suitcase and a computer. Up until that day, none of them had set foot onto a college campus. To this day, I can remember their excitement and pride. “WE made it! WE made it!” my dad said.

FDU Magazine: Did you feel a special kind of pressure as a first-generation college student?

AB: A majority of college students face a mounting pressure to succeed. Expectations are always high, but the stakes and expectations are even higher for first-generation students. You have numerous people looking up to you and cheering you on. You have others counting on you to succeed to pull them out of poverty. I’ve seen this pressure derail many young promising students.

My advice to first-generation students is to take a step back, take a deep breath, tune out the outside noise and pat yourselves on the back. You’ve made it this far, just keep going. The path to success is not always paved with flowers, it is paved with failures and obstacles. Prepare, persevere and persist.

FDU Magazine: How did a college degree change your life and set you on track to become a neurosurgeon?

AB: FDU was my bridge to greatness. Getting into college and getting a degree is, by far, my most important accomplishment. It was the best personal, professional and financial investment I’ve ever made.

I discovered my passion for medicine during undergrad. End to end, my education took 16 years. After I graduated from FDU, I spent a year doing research to help patients with nerve injuries. Then I enrolled at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Finally, I completed seven years of neurosurgery residency at the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, where I still work now.

It’s so fulfilling to see a child regain their liveliness after you cure their brain tumor or realign their spine. Medicine has taught me that caring for people is as much about lifting their spirits as it is making physical improvements.