Introducing BU’s Fresh Talents: Meet Mohamed Mohamed and the Terrier Team
By: Joel Brown Photo by: Jackie Ricciardi
Friday September 8, 2023
Mohamed Mohamed (ENG’25) faced hurdles before finding success at Bunker Hill Community College and earning a full-tuition scholarship to BU.
This week, Boston University welcomes 3,147 freshmen and 931 transfer students to begin their academic journeys. Let’s take a moment to highlight one of them.
Mohamed Mohamed’s parents escaped the civil war in Somalia and came to America in 1993. They settled in Atlanta, Georgia, but the high crime rates in public housing reminded them of the violence they had left behind. Seeking a better life, they moved to the mill town of Auburn, Maine, where a growing Somali community offered hope for the future. Education was a vital part of their plan.
“When my parents came to America, they had a strong desire for their children to receive the best education possible,” Mohamed explains. “They recognized the many advantages we have here and understood that education plays a critical role in achieving success.”
Mohamed (ENG’25) is starting his journey at BU this semester with a full-tuition scholarship awarded annually to one transfer student from Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC). He will pursue a degree in computer engineering, specializing in machine learning and artificial intelligence. He has already contributed to research projects and recently completed a summer internship in his chosen field. Additionally, he actively participates in programs aimed at improving educational outcomes for Black men.
However, Mohamed had to overcome certain challenges before achieving this level of success.
“I enjoyed growing up in Maine,” Mohamed recalls. “But it had its difficulties, especially in the beginning. It didn’t feel very accepting.” The presence of the growing Somali community was a source of controversy for some residents. However, with the emergence of a new political leadership promoting acceptance and the establishment of a Somali business strip in neighboring Lewiston, the community began to thrive.
Despite these positive changes, Mohamed faced difficulties as the only Black student in his elementary school and one of only a few in middle school. He often felt uncomfortable in the classroom and experienced microaggressions from fellow students and teachers.
“When you don’t see many people who look like you, it can be intimidating,” he explains. “Especially when you reach high school, and you have to take higher level courses to strengthen your college application. The guidance counselors seemed to prioritize white students over non-white students. You have to be your own advocate and fight for what you want.”
Having successful older siblings, including a brother studying medicine at Brown University, a sister with a master’s degree in public health from Brown, and another sister who graduated from UMass Amherst, actually made it more challenging for Mohamed. He felt less driven than they were and struggled to find his own path.
“In high school, I was more interested in sports and the arts. I enjoyed being creative,” he admits. “I was also an anxious kid who struggled with asserting myself. I was soft-spoken and had a small circle of friends. I didn’t make much effort to socialize, which made it difficult for me to advocate for myself and enroll in AP courses.”
As his siblings began their college journeys, Mohamed’s family relocated to Massachusetts to be closer to the region’s universities. He convinced his parents to allow him to take a gap year after high school to explore his options. During this time, he worked at Tufts Medical Center’s emergency room and contemplated pursuing a business degree. Eventually, he enrolled at BHCC, where he encountered challenging math courses that initially discouraged him.
“I remember talking to my brother, feeling emotional, and doubting my intelligence. I was ready to give up very early on instead of trying,” he recalls. “But my brother taught me how to tackle difficult tasks head-on because challenges will always arise.”
Over the summer, Mohamed retook a precalculus course that had previously troubled him.
“I prepared heavily for that course. I watched numerous videos, self-studied algebra, and had a great professor. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and ask for help whenever needed. I actively participated in lectures, raising my hand to seek clarification. Immediately after each lecture, I applied what I had learned to ensure it ingrained in my long-term memory.
“To my surprise, I received an 89 or a high 90 on the first exam. I had never experienced this level of success before. Subsequent exams yielded similar results, and I refused to give up on myself.”
Driven by newfound confidence, Mohamed excelled in calculus and physics. After two years at Bunker Hill, he earned associate degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics. During his time there, he secured a research internship at Northeastern University, where he dived into the world of machine learning and optimization. Although he had no coding experience, he taught himself the necessary skills to analyze and process data.
“It was an incredible experience for me,” he shares. “Surrounded by peers from esteemed institutions like Northeastern, BU, and MIT, I became more passionate about my future. I embraced new concepts, dedicated myself to understanding the fundamentals, and even started reading documentation to explore what I could build. This was when I realized my affinity for computer science.”
Prior to moving into his dorm at BU’s West Campus, Mohamed spent the summer interning in machine learning at athenahealth, a Watertown-based company. Additionally, he volunteered at BU’s Center for Computing & Data Sciences, contributing to a research project on machine learning and web development at the Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine.
“I’m eager to network and involve myself in various research endeavors,” he affirms.
He also strives to support and inspire those who will follow his footsteps. While at BHCC, Mohamed participated in a Hack Diversity fellowship and the HOPE Initiative, both focused on aiding Black and Latinx students in their studies. He offered tutoring sessions for Boston Public School students and intends to join BU’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers while working towards establishing a chapter at BHCC.
“I believe that establishing networks at community colleges will greatly benefit students aspiring to become engineers,” Mohamed asserts. “Many individuals who share my background and interest in engineering avoid pursuing it due to the discomfort of not being surrounded by people who resemble them.”
Another significant influence on Mohamed’s journey to BU has been his father, who studied at Southern Maine University and became a registered nurse. Mohamed’s parents were overjoyed when he received the scholarship from BU.
“My brother called me and reminded me of when I almost dropped calculus,” he says emotionally. “It was a remarkable adult moment, realizing how far I’ve come and how much further I can go. Believing in oneself, staying committed, and devoting countless hours of study pay off.
“I am working to advocate for community college students because that is who I will always be. That is where I started. I understand how challenging it is for community college students to reach universities like BU.
“I am fortunate, and I have worked hard. It is my duty to provide others with the blueprint—steps to follow and areas to focus on. This approach shaped me into a well-rounded engineer and taught me the importance of advocating not only for myself but also for future generations. I want to be a supportive friend to students who resemble me in my courses.
“My mindset has changed significantly,” Mohamed declares. “I no longer feel apprehensive. I confidently take up space because I know I deserve it.”