Auburn mother and son win prestigious awards for service to others

Published: July 08, 2015
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It's not every day that a mother and son attend the same school, let alone win nationally prestigious awards just one year apart. The Ahmed family did just that, giving new meaning to the phrase "the Auburn Family."

While son Azeem was finishing his bachelor's degree in 2014, his mother Nighet was busy preparing to enroll in Auburn's doctoral program. In addition to excelling at their studies, both demonstrate a passion for helping others.

Azeem, who grew up in Auburn, credits his parents for showing him the importance of giving back to the community and to those less fortunate. In high school, he dual-enrolled at both Auburn High School, where he was the National Youth Ambassador for the March of Dimes, and Auburn University.

During his time at Auburn University, Azeem double-majored in finance and economics with a minor in public health. He also won many prestigious scholarships, including the Harry S. Truman Scholarship and the Clinton Hunger Leadership Award, and was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship last fall. He interned with the United Nations and traveled to Egypt to address the hunger crisis overseas.

"It is one thing to put cans on a shelf, but it was an amazing experience to go to another country and actually implement a program that would tackle hunger head on," said Azeem.

Azeem recalled a time where his parents took him and his brother to Baton Rouge to visit refugees displaced by the war in Kosovo. He remembers bringing food to the family. Even though they had so little, the children still tried to share and give him and his family anything they had in return.

"From then on my parents made that a point of reference," said Azeem, who now works with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services constructing health care policies to provide high quality health care to areas in need. "If we have something to give we should. It's not necessarily a matter of if you have so much to give you should. People who have little should still give."

Azeem credits this attitude to the lessons he learned from his parents, especially his mother, who will use a scholarship to travel overseas this fall.

His mother Nighet approached Paul Harris, Auburn's associate director for national prestigious scholarships, about pursuing her Ph.D. program. Harris had already worked with Azeem on his Truman, Rhodes and Clinton Leadership awards, and had gotten to know the Ahmed family well. He could tell that, like Azeem, Nighet was concerned with the welfare of others and had a specific direction toward helping those in need. She has also been involved throughout the community teaching her sons to care for others as well as being involved with empowering and supporting women.

"Nighet came to a scholarship meeting and I thought she was there to get information for her younger son," said Harris. "She then told me she was there to pursue her aspirations of higher education."

"My mom is still my role model," said Azeem. "She walks the walk and I'm glad she is pursuing her personal and professional dreams."

Nighet said that growing up in Pakistan she would watch her mother make rice and take it to orphanages. She had no idea how much the children would impact her.

"The children loved it," said Nighet. "They were so grateful and in a way, I guess, my mother helping those children impacted me."

After raising her two sons, she decided to pursue higher education. She told Harris she had always had a dream of studying Arabic and wanted to learn the language to help women and refugees integrate. So throughout the fall, she and Harris worked on the lengthy application process -- going over draft essays, gathering letters of support and supporting documentation. This spring she was awarded the Boren Fellowship to study Arabic for a year in Fez, Morocco, at the Arabic Language Institute this fall. She will also be visiting a second university as well, the University of al-Qarawiyyin.

"I am also excited about the opportunity to immerse in the educational circles of the University of al-Qararwiyyin, which was founded by two Muslim sisters in the ninth century," said Nighet, who hopes to conduct research while in Morocco about the experiences of girls and women in the area.

She will then apply this research and knowledge to help immigrant women who have recently come to the U.S. from Northern Africa and Southwest Asia. With her research she plans to do a cross culture examination comparing what motivates women and their challenges. Nighet stresses the importance of higher education, especially in women, explaining that all of society benefits from education.