Titan Voice: Grad’s data-driven vision could help those most in need

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  • CSUF graduate Thabat Dahdoul, far right, traveled to Peru in the summer of 2017 with other BOLD scholars, from left, Dinorah Ortiz from CSUF and Enas Jahangir from Smith College, plus Annie Cohen, site coordinator of the program at Smith. The BOLD Women’s Leadership Network is funded by the Pussycat Foundation, established by former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

  • Cal State Fullerton 2018 graduate Thabat Dahdoul is flanked by CSUF President Fram Virjee and his wife, Julie, at El Dorado Ranch and her husband, Ahmed, at far left. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

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  • During her visit to Peru last summer with a group of BOLD scholars and study abroad students, CSUF graduate Thabat Dahdoul, back row center, toured Julio’s farm (proprietor Julio at far left), where farmers learn new ways to grow crops. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

  • CSUF graduate Thabat Dahdoul, third from right, traveled to Middlebury College in January 2017 for a retreat among scholars in the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network. Dahdoul was part of CSUF’s inaugural class of scholars selected to receive $25,000 scholarships, mentoring with faculty members and opportunities for retreats designed to help participants develop leadership skills. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

  • CSUF Class of 2018 graduate Thabat Dahdoul, surrounded by Mathematics Department faculty members, holds a plaque recognizing the Benson family scholarship she received in spring 2016 for academic achievement. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

  • CSUF math major Thabat Dahdoul, center, poses with students she joined in summer 2016 at Harvard University for six weeks devoted to a research project. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

  • CSUF math graduate Thabat Dahdoul (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

  • Cal State Fullerton math major Thabat Dahdoul, seated second from left, is pictured with fellow recipients of the National Science Foundation-funded Graduate Readiness and Access in Mathematics scholarship and their mentors, Scott Annin, professor of mathematics, and Anael Verdugo, assistant professor of mathematics, are seated at far right. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)



By Thabat Dahdoul

Contributing columnist

Having grown up in a war zone, I witnessed firsthand how a lack of knowledge and a poor infrastructure in public health can lead to an uncountable number of medical mistakes — ones that, ultimately, could increase the mortality rate.

At a young age, I realized that a better health care system was needed to help those who survived the multiple attacks that occurred between the Palestinians and the Israelis. My enjoyment of mathematics was my outlet from this situation.

Since immigrating to the United States, I have continued to enjoy mathematics and have used it to help me become comfortable communicating in English, as well as allowing me the chance to blend into American society. Now that I am well-acclimated to life in the U.S., I have continued to further my studies in mathematics and statistics at Cal State Fullerton. It is my goal to pursue a career in a field where I can use my mathematical skills to approach problems in biology in a data-driven way.

This passion has led me to pursue several research opportunities focused on the application of mathematics and statistics to medical and public health fields. While preparing rigorously for a graduate education, I have attempted to take advantage of every research opportunity that has crossed my path, with a particular focus on the role statistics plays in the intersection of biology and mathematics. One such opportunity was working with Donna Neuberg, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, on a study examining patients with severe sickle cell disease. These patients participated in Stage 1 and Stage 2 clinical trials in which they received a bone marrow transplant.

I was also given the opportunity to work with Michael Reed, a professor at Duke University, on a study designed to examine one-carbon metabolism differences between men and women of childbearing age. The project started with analyzing the physiology of methionine and folate cycles in liver cells and modeling the interaction of the two cycles using ordinary differential equations. Important differences between men and women were discovered in the concentrations of some enzymes. Particularly, we found a doubling of phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase in women relative to men, which upregulates the trans-methylation rate, with even greater upregulation during pregnancy. Also, we were able to understand the mechanism of the higher levels of homocysteine, which are associated with a higher risk of coronary artery disease in men relative to women.

In addition to these research experiences, I am also a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Readiness and Access in Mathematics Scholarship. With this scholarship, I have worked with two CSUF faculty members, Kevin Nichols, associate professor of mathematics, and his then-department colleague Reza Ramezan, on paleo-climatology models used to estimate hydro-climatology features of the Western Hemisphere.

I believe in the positive impact that mathematics and statistics can play in the field of medicine. My desire to pursue graduate research in statistics arises from my love of statistics, along with a personal desire to improve the public health system worldwide. I am especially interested in statistical aspects of clinical trials and study design focused on helping high-need communities. Coming from a developing country myself, I am aware of how far the small gestures of a study, such as giving free examinations during the process of collecting data, can go in high-need communities.

It hurts me to say that supporting women’s education in the way I was able to experience it at CSUF, and through my travels to other institutions for research and conferences, is uncommon in my culture. I am lucky to be married to a man who made this possible by being my advocate, teaching me all the English that I speak and write, offering constant guidance on networking and building relationships, and at the same time, allowing me the space that I needed to grow and become the person that I am today. My husband, Ahmed, and I were able to break the cultural cycle of what is expected from women in my culture and hope others are inspired to do the same.

Having considered admission offers from UCLA and the University of Michigan, I have elected to pursue a Ph.D. in statistics at UC Irvine in the fall of 2019, and with that, I will continue the journey of making my dream come true.

Thabat Dahdoul graduated summa cum laude from Cal State Fullerton in May with a near-perfect GPA, earning a B.A. in mathematics with a concentration in statistics. She was among the first six students selected for the Graduate Readiness and Access in Mathematics scholarship and went on to earn multiple honors this spring from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. They include: a GRAM Scholars Recognition Award, a Mathematics Academic Achievement Award at the Undergraduate Level, as well as special recognition for undergraduate research in mathematics. She was cited as having “one of the most extensive series of presentations in biomathematics in the last year that one of our undergraduate students ever had.” Dahdoul presented her work at the Mathematical Biosciences Institute and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, among other academic events. She is expecting her first child in the fall.