Academic and Cultural Connections
While at the College, the Bethlehem students developed a close rapport with each other, the professors and students they worked with, and with the wider College community. This was especially valuable during Ramadan, when Mehnaz Afridi, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies and director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Center at Manhattan, hosted the students for iftar, the religious gathering that commemorates the breaking of the fast on each day of the holy month. At her home, Afridi cooked traditional Middle Eastern dishes like fish biryani, halwa, chickpeas and baba ganoush. She also helped Al-Obayyat navigate where to find halal food nearby, as non-halal (food that is non-permissible under Muslim law) is prohibited during Ramadan. According to Afridi, observing Ramadan with the Bethlehem students was enriching for all involved.
“Anytime you have people from two very different cultures come together, there’s a transformation that happens,” she later reflected. “You also realize that regardless of background, everyone is human.”
When it came to differences in educational customs between the West Bank and U.S., some variations in practice served to benefit the Bethlehem students. For Alawi, the research she conducted with Gennaro Maffia Ph.D., professor of chemical engineering, and senior Amanda Peterman ’18, was the first she’d ever completed with another student.
“This is my first time actually working with someone,” Alawi says. “Back home, I’ve worked alone, and we don’t have the equipment. Here, we have that, the people, and the materials, which is nice.”
Given the particular project she worked on with Maffia and Peterman, those elements are crucial – transforming the animal product waste bovine corium into tissue involved many processes: milling, freezing, thermal soaking, freeze-drying and crosslinking of collagen dispersions, to name a few. Eventually, their creation could serve as a remedy for arthritis and as a means of solving other biomedical issues.
The paper Alawi and her team drafted on their research findings has since been accepted for publishing in the International Journal of Engineering Research and Technology.
To help Bethlehem student Harami understand the intricate web programming language, Python, Musa Jafar, Ph.D., associate professor of computer information systems, extracted content from Pope Francis’ Twitter page to illustrate how to view the engagement various posts receive (how many likes, retweets, etc.). He used this type of data, and many others, to exemplify what would be needed to lay the groundwork for developing a web-based social media analytics platform. This was the focus of the research he conducted with Harami, a computer information systems major at Bethlehem, and Shintaro Nakamura ’18, a senior at the College.
Meanwhile, Al-Obayyat and faculty adviser Ahmed Hussein, Ph.D., an electrical and computer engineering professor at Manhattan, were exploring the information technology sector as well. Their objective was to enhance network connectivity or, as Al-Obayyat simply said, “make the internet faster.” By working to increase the capabilities of high bandwidth networks, mobile network service providers may improve the internet speed of their mobile devices, they cited as their hypothesis.
A Look Ahead
As summer came to a close, the abundance of academic growth the Bethlehem students gleaned from their collaborations with College faculty, staff and students was only matched by the variety of experiences they had in New York.
Unfortunately, they will not be able to present findings of their research with their Manhattan counterparts at Research Scholars Presentation Day on September 29, but they will issue presentations to fellow students and faculty at the beginning of their fall semester at Bethlehem.
So what’s on tap for next summer? According to Cory Blad, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology who co-directs the Summer Research Program with Rani Roy, Ph.D., assistant vice president for student and faculty development, the College hopes to expand research connections so that more College students and faculty are involved, and explore other areas of partnership with Bethlehem University.
“If the experience of the past two years has taught us anything, it is that the students, faculty and staff at Bethlehem University can support us just as much, if not more, as we can support them,” he says. “As Lasallian institutions, we are linked by a shared mission and worldview, but as colleagues, friends and peers, we share the potential to do some incredible things in the future.”