June 11, 2021

School of Medicine research assistant named National Neuroscience Student of the Year

Noor Alesawy is a sophomore undergraduate student studying neuroscience and business administration.

Noor Alesawy, a neuroscience and business administration undergraduate and a research assistant in two laboratories led by School of Medicine faculty members, was named the Nu Rho Psi National Outstanding Neuroscience Student of the Year for 2020-2021.

Nu Rho Psi is the National Honor Society of Neuroscience founded in 2006 for undergraduate college students. The Wayne State chapter of the organization, of which Alesawy is vice president, won chapter of the year after inaugurating its first class last year.

Noor Alesawy, center, poses with members of the Henry Ford Department of Neurosurgery at a luncheon she hosted to thank them for being part of Nu Rho Psi panels.

Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Arash Javanbakht, M.D., leads the Stress, Trauma and Anxiety Research Clinic, also called the STARC lab. As a research assistant, Alesawy has been involved in “Stress Risk and Resilience in Syrian and Iraqi Refugees and Survivors of Torture,” Dr. Javanbakht’s longitudinal research project, in which she looks at genetic factors of vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder. She is also part of his project using augmented reality and telemedicine for treatment of phobias and PTSD, and helped develop a business model for commercialization.

“With her intelligence, integrity, passion, exceptional leadership, and organizational skills and commitment, I have no doubt that Noor is well positioned to have a brilliant future as a clinician-researcher and physician. While we really need more clinician-researchers in the field of neuroscience, supporting women for future leadership in this field is also pivotal,” Dr. Javanbakht said.

She is also a research assistant in the lab of Associate Professor of Neurosurgery Alana Conti, Ph.D.

“Wayne State University is a research epicenter, so professors were always very welcoming to undergraduate students eager to research in their labs. I have gotten the opportunity to do my own research project to study the effects of photobiomodulation light therapy on traumatic brain injury-induced opioid seeking under the guidance of Dr. Conti,” Alesawy said.

After learning she won the national award, Alesawy immediately texted faculty and peers who may have nominated her for the honor. “Without their support and continuous mentorship, none of this would be possible,” she said.

Alesawy moved to the United States from Baghdad with her family at age 12 for better educational opportunities, initially settling in Boston, then Michigan. News of the award spread quickly, and she woke the day after to texts from family abroad recognizing her name and face on the news in Iraq and the Middle East.

“I felt motivated more than ever to work hard after seeing all the love, support and pride from my country,” she said. “I realized that every action and achievement I do is not only representative of myself but an entire country as I am the first impression to many people in the U.S. of what an Iraqi or an Arab is like. This is truly one of the greatest honors I could imagine.”

She pursued a dual degree in Neuroscience and Business Administration on the pre-medicine track at WSU, but is transferring to a different university this fall.

While at WSU, Alesawy hosted and coordinated the university's first M.D./M.B.A. panel with student panelists and speakers, including School of Medicine Dean Mark E. Schweitzer, M.D., and Mike Ilitch School of Business Dean Bob Forsythe, Ph.D.

“It has truly been an honor to be a part of the neuroscience program at WSU as I have met some of the most brilliant neuroscientists who are always eager to mentor the next generation,” she said. “After two years at Wayne State University, I am extremely thankful for all the opportunities and lessons I have learned. Never would I have thought that I would be able to play a role in establishing entire university programs, commercializing a business, or even offered funding for my research project at only 20 years old. But with the support of the exceptional professors and peers at WSU, the sky is the limit. I urge all undergrad students to really get involved and get to know their professors, because there is always an opportunity available out there for those eager students.”

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