Samia Alghazo '20, the 2018 Marna G. Kissmann ‘90 Scholarship recipient. | Image: Savanna Hoover

Samia Alghazo ‘20 is not your typical student. After immigrating to the United States at the age of 19, she worked hard for 14 years to raise her family. Now that her three boys are in high school, she is back in school studying nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University and is the 2018 Marna G. Kissmann ‘90 Scholarship recipient.

Alghazo started her journey to Texas A&M by completing her associate’s degree in computer engineering at Austin Community College. She was inspired to apply to Texas A&M and pursue nuclear engineering by her two nieces, who recently graduated from the department and lead successful careers. Alghazo is double minoring in radiological health and mathematics while pursuing the nuclear criticality safety certificate outside of class, and she is determined to make the most of it. “I want to expand my mind and take advantage of all the opportunities available,” said Alghazo.

Studying at Texas A&M required a 360-degree life change. “I left a lot to go back to school,” said Alghazo. “This is both my dream and my mother’s dream. She always wanted me to go further in school and when she passed away in 2012, I knew I had to make it happen to live up to her memory.” Alghazo emphasized that her goal was to do something ambitious, challenging herself and her abilities. After college she aims to design radiological health devices.

3,000 miles to success

Now Alghazo travels the 100 miles from Round Rock to College Station twice a week to attend her classes and then be with her family on the weekends (meaning she travels roughly 3,000 miles per semester). Her sons are a freshman, sophomore and junior in high school. “I’m happy I was able to dedicate part of my life to them and now to focus on this,” she said.

Alghazo has faced her share of challenges and successes on her path to a degree. When she encounters an obstacle, she calls her father and brother-in-law. “Whenever I call, my brother-in-law gives me the right advice,” she said. It was difficult for her to start again after so long, and she had to start with basic mathematics her freshman year. Now she’s minoring in math.

On the other hand, Alghazo was surprised at some of the benefits of attending Texas A&M.

“I have a lot of new friends I never thought I would make,” said Alghazo, whose favorite activity outside of the classroom is playing volleyball with the American Nuclear Society. “I realized diversity is celebrated at Texas A&M. The kids are very respectful to me. They're from all parts of the country and world. You build relationships that are not usual when you come to college. That’s the memory I will take with me.”

Alghazo received the Marna G. Kissmann ‘90 Scholarship in October, and Marna Stepan, her academic advisor, was the donor for it. It was a welcome form of support for Alghazo and a form of encouragement to move forward with her journey. “When I first heard that my advisor was my scholarship donor I immediately ran to her office,” said Alghazo. “I had to tell her thank you!”

Be kind and give back

Marna Stepan '90, undergraduate advisor and scholarship donor. | Image: Savanna Hoover

Stepan graduated with her bachelor’s degree in sociology and started her career at Texas A&M in the financial aid office. “I saw how a scholarship could be customized to fit donors’ specifications,” said Stepan. “A donor can choose to support students in a certain organization or from a certain county.”

In 2009, after living all over the world, Stepan came back to College Station and began her new career as the nuclear engineering undergraduate advisor. In 2012 she endowed her scholarship. “I’ve always felt it’s important to give back to society,” she said.

“Endowing a scholarship pays for itself,” said Stepan. “Someone could give $1,000 every year, then after 25 years your $25,000 is gone. Endowing builds interest.” The Marna G. Kissman scholarship will continue to support students in perpetuity.

She wanted to support students who were good students but may not have a 4.0. To make her scholarship extra impactful she also specified that her recipient should have undergone significant hardships and have a financial need. “Scholarships fund students,” she said. “Students are our future.”

Stepan enjoys working in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, which she describes as supportive and close-knit. She also appreciates the discipline of nuclear engineering, seeing nuclear energy as the energy of the future. “Marie Curie’s biography was one of my favorites growing up,” said Stepan. “I had no idea how it would later connect to my life.”

Stepan is leading by example by endowing a scholarship and having a direct relationship as an advisor with her students. She hopes her recipients will be inspired to follow in her footsteps, which Alghazo has plans to do as she hopes to one day create her own scholarship. “The best part of my job is interacting with students on a daily basis,” she said. “I enjoy seeing them progress throughout their academic career.” Her previous recipients are working in health physics and attending graduate school both in the U.S. and in the U.K.

Stepan’s advice for students? “Work on your time management, ask for help when you need it and talk to your advisor,” she said. “But most importantly: Be kind and give back.”

How to give

If you are interested in creating an engineering scholarship, please contact Patrick Wilson, Assistant Director of Development at 979-204-8556 or pwilson@txamfoundation.com.