“Just ask questions and go for it!” | MIT News

At dinnertime in Zaina Moussa’s childhood home, the table would be filled with an array of Moroccan and Syrian dishes, representing her parents’ different backgrounds. A mix of French, Arabic, and English words would fill the air as Moussa’s siblings chattered, waiting for their father to join them. As her diabetic father pricked his finger to check his blood sugar, she and her siblings would shout out numbers to predict the results before the monitor. 

From a young age, Moussa appreciated how accessible medical devices can empower patients. She dreamed of one day studying bioengineering to learn how to create these devices. Yet, her small high school in Lubbock, Texas, had limited engineering opportunities. When a summer engineering program at a local university opened for high-school students, Moussa jumped at the chance. Over one summer, she learned how to build an electrocardiogram out of just two pennies, shower gel, an Arduino, an LCD screen, and a speaker. “The process showed me just how accessible we can make technology to those who need it,” says Moussa.

After getting accepted to MIT, Moussa arrived to campus ready to begin pursuing her biological engineering major. However, she quickly found herself struggling to adjust to her new environment compared to her support system back home. She joined the Black Women’s Alliance (BWA), whose weekend retreat helped her build a new family on campus. “We did a lot of workshops together that made me feel part of a sense of camaraderie,” she says. “I’ve been part of the organization ever since. I love being able to support others and to feel supported by so many amazing women.”

Moussa sought out research experiences through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). She toured the lab of Institute Professor Robert Langer and became interested in a project about injectable hydrogels that can facilitate polyp removal during surgery. For the next two years, Moussa worked on the project and is now an author on two published papers on hydrogels and drug delivery.

Summer research experiences in other labs gave Moussa a chance to explore additional topics in medical research. During the summer after her sophomore year, she worked alongside a physician-scientist at the Mayo Clinic in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine and Radiology. Although she knew little at the time about machine learning, she taught herself to develop a model to diagnose early stage cardiac amyloidosis. “I try to go into things thinking ‘let’s do this,’ even if I’m scared at first,” she says, laughing. “Google has definitely been my best friend for approaching any new challenge.”

Through this experience, Moussa also became introduced to the importance of patient input throughout the technical design process. This eventually inspired Moussa to pursue a combined MD/PhD. “The physician I shadowed would really take the time with each patient to educate them about their diagnosis and options,” she says. “I realized I don’t want to do research without also knowing the patient’s perspective. Since then, I’ve been interested in an MD/PhD track to combine both of my interests.”

Understanding the person behind a medical treatment has continued to be a key interest of Moussa’s. Her favorite course, WGS.S10 (Black Feminist Health Science Studies), is about the medicalization of race and the health of marginalized groups. “It also got me thinking about how we often put the blame on the patient. For example, we’ve seen the lowest rates of Covid-19 vaccination in Black and Brown communities,” explains Moussa. “We need to look towards our institutions for why this might be, not just blame the patient for vaccine hesitancy.”

“I think that’s why the intersection of engineering and humanities is so important to bringing the human back into engineering,” she says. “We need to meld these two spheres together if we’re going to make technologies that better serve our communitites.”

Moussa also enjoys understanding people better by learning new languages. In addition to the three languages of her household, Moussa has taught herself Spanish and Portugese. She also has a minor in Japanese, which she first pursued out of her love for anime. “It’s always been about the people for me, and I find that studying languages helps open up the world. By understanding a person’s language, you can begin to better understand their values and culture,” she says.

In her free time, Moussa enjoys mentoring other pre-med students through the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students. Whenever worried students approach her about grades, she shares the advice she has gained from self studying languages. “Learning new topics is similar to learning a new language. You can’t get embarrassed, because if do, you’re not going to learn as much,” Moussa explains. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and try to immerse yourself in the environment of whatever you’re trying to learn.”

This fall, Moussa will begin pursuing her MD/PhD in bioengineering. She hopes to use her daily conversations with patients to create technologies that meet their needs. “I’m excited to see what the future holds and I’m very open-minded. Three years ago, I wasn’t even thinking about being a physician. It’s amazing to look back and see how much I’ve changed,” she says.

“I used to face this mental gymnastics between my different interests and cultures. I still get in my head sometimes, but for the most part, I now embrace that I am both Black and Middle Eastern. Both a physician and a scientist. That’s just me,” Moussa says.

 “My new perspective is that there’s just not enough time to be invalidating yourself or worrying what other people think. Just ask questions and go for it! You’ve got this.”

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Reimagine and Rebuild—Centering Relationships for a Restorative Restart

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The pandemic has exposed long-standing systemic inequities in education and has cost lives and livelihoods in families already vulnerable and on the edge. School staff have also experienced greater stress and burnout this year. As schools complete the year, a major infusion of funding has opened the door to new possibilities. As we recover, we must build toward an education system that places equity and relationships at the center. In the first conversation of a 3-part series, we will discuss how the rebuilding and recovery should begin and the actions districts and school leaders can take to prioritize building and nurturing relationships among students, families, and educators. 

Join us for a conversation facilitated by Janet Carlson and Christine Bywater from the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching. Our guest speakers will be:

– Heather J. Hough, Executive Director, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)

Hayin Kimner, Senior Policy and Research Fellow, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)

– Guthrie Fleischman, Principal, Crespi Middle School in El Sobrante, CA

This event is sponsored by the Transforming Learning Accelerator, an initiative born out of Stanford’s Long-Range Vision and Graduate School of Education.

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Frederic Clark: The First Pagan Historian

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The Fortunes of a Fraud from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

Please join us for a book talk by 2020-21 Stanford Humanities Center fellow Frederic Clark, as part of the Inside the Center series.

The annals of literary history are replete with examples of formerly famous books that have fallen into obscurity and neglect. But few have experienced as marked a reversal of fortune, or as ignominious a fall, as Dares the Phrygian’s History of the Destruction of Troy.

Though scarcely read today, even by classicists, the Destruction of Troy was required reading for centuries throughout medieval and Renaissance Europe. It survives today in numerous manuscripts and printed editions, both in Latin and the modern European vernaculars. Dares’ narrative boldly subverted two of the ancient world’s most canonical poets: Homer and Virgil. And the tradition it inspired influenced everyone from Petrarch to Chaucer to Shakespeare.

Dares made an audacious claim: he presented himself as an eyewitness to the Trojan War. He promised—in arrestingly simple prose—to deliver the facts and just the facts about what really happened at Troy. His battlefield dispatches contained precise casualty figures, and made no mention of the gods or other mythical phenomena. He said nothing about the Trojan Horse, but instead related that Troy fell when Aeneas and several other Trojans betrayed their city and opened its gates to the Greeks.

Although Dares had presumably written in some form of Greek, his text circulated in Latin, in a version supposedly translated by the text’s “discoverer,” the Roman historian Cornelius Nepos. Of course, the real Nepos had never laid eyes upon the book, just as “Dares” had never been a real eyewitness to the Trojan War. While the motives of the actual author of this fake remain enigmatic, he fooled a millennium of readers into labeling him nothing less than the first pagan to write history.

From the late antique encyclopedist Isidore of Seville to Thomas Jefferson, Frederic Clark’s The First Pagan Historian (Oxford University Press, 2020) offers the first comprehensive account of Dares’ rise and fall as a reliable and canonical guide to the distant past. Along the way, it reconstructs the central place of forgery and falsification in longstanding debates over the nature of history, fiction, criticism, philology, and myth, from ancient Rome to the Enlightenment. 

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Transactive Energy System for DER Integration

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Speaker: Gregor Verbič, University of Sydney, Australia 

Seminar Abstract:
More information coming soon

Speaker Bio:
Gregor Verbič is an Associate Professor in the
Centre for Future Energy Networks based in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering. Prior to this, he was an assistant professor in Laboratory of Power Systems at University of Ljubljana, where he is now an adjunct professor and where he received his PhD in electrical engineering. In 2005, he was a NATO-NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Waterloo, Canada under supervision of Prof Claudio Cañizares. Between 2008 and 2010 he was head of the investment department in Interenergo, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The company invests in renewable energy in the Balkans region, with a particular focus on small hydro.Admission Info

Seminar is open to all Stanford students, faculty and staff. Register via the RSVP link.

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Social Policy Recommendations to Improve Child Health and Development

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The Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute Seminar Series highlight compelling clinical topics, innovative research, and the latest developments in maternal and child health at Stanford University, and serves as a forum for engaging in conversations with other researchers and scientists across the community. For more information, visit our website.


Social Policy Recommendations to Improve Child Health and Development


David Rehkopf, MPH, ScD
Co-Director of the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences; Associate Professor, Epidemiology & Population Health and of Medicine (Primary Care & Population Health), Stanford School of Medicine

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2021 Transforming Learning Accelerator Spring Summit

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This free, online summit hosted by Dan Schwartz, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Education, with a welcome from Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, brings together researchers from across the university who work to improve learning. They will discuss the breakthroughs in neuroscience, technology, and data that make it possible to create more equitable, just, and effective learning solutions.

Speakers include:

  • Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education, Stanford Graduate School of Education
  • Emma Brunskill, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Education (by courtesy), Stanford School of Engineering
  • Nick Haber, Assistant Professor of Education and Computer Science (by courtesy), Stanford Graduate School of Education
  • Victor Lee, Associate Professor of Education, Stanford Graduate School of Education
  • Carla Pugh, Professor of Surgery and Director of the Technology Enabled Clinical Improvement (T.E.C.I.) Center, Stanford Medicine
  • Jason Yeatman, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Education, Stanford Medicine and Graduate School of Education

See the agenda and register to attend

The summit is sponsored by the Transforming Learning Accelerator, an initiative born out of Stanford’s Long-Range Vision, and the Graduate School of Education. All are welcome.

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Film Selections by Documentary Film Program Students

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Each week, Stanford Under the Stars: Movie Nights at Frost brings a selection of movies featuring actors who attended Stanford or various Stanford and Northern California filming locations.

Curated by students in Stanford’s Documentary Film Program, the screening features a selection of recent short films by current MFA students and program alumni. A Q & A with the filmmakers will follow the screening. Film titles to come soon.

All sales end at 11:59 PM PST the night before the movie. To learn more about our COVID-19 Safety Guidelines, click here

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Cameron Blevins and “Paper Trails”

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Cameron Blevins, former Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Fellow, will stop by the Lane Center to discuss his new book, Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West. Blevins will be joined in conversation by Richard White, co-founding director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, and Charlotte Hull, current Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Fellow.

About the Book:

Paper Trails argues that the US Post wove together two of the era’s defining projects: western expansion and the growth of state power. Between the 1860s and the early 1900s, the western United States underwent a dramatic reorganization of people, land, capital, and resources. As millions of settlers moved into the region, they relied on letters and newspapers, magazines and pamphlets, petitions and money orders to stay connected to the wider world. Paper Trails maps the spread of the US Post using a dataset of more than 100,000 post offices, revealing a new picture of the federal government in the West.

The western postal network bore little resemblance to the civil service bureaucracies typically associated with government institutions. Instead, the US Post grafted public mail service onto private businesses, contracting with stagecoach companies to carry the mail and paying local merchants to distribute letters from their stores. These arrangements allowed the US Post to operate what Blevins has termed a “gossamer network,” rapidly spinning out a vast and ephemeral web of postal infrastructure to thousands of distant places. The postal network’s sprawling geography and localized operations forces a reconsideration of the American state, its history, and the ways in which it exercised power.

About Cameron Blevins

Blevins teaches United States history and digital humanities at the University of Colorado Denver. Prior to this, he was an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University and core faculty member of the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks.

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