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The frog peered up at her from its position against the dissection tray, its smooth arms and feet pinned. Danya Chowdhury inspected its rubber limbs and torso; classmates cheered as they unearthed the organs and eggs of their specimens. 

Her own frog remained intact, its corpse the pristine before-image of frenzied autopsies. 

“Every time I see my seventh-grade [Al-Huda School] biology teacher, Sr. Sumayyah Fahmy, I always tell her she’s the reason I went into bioengineering. That was the first year we performed dissections, on frogs and cow liver, and even though I pretty much chickened out in doing it, it was such a great class. It made me realize how much I loved the subject,” Chowdhury said. 

Though her webbed specimen circumvented its post mortem c-section, the familiar, intimate stools and wooden tables of Al-Huda School’s laboratory nurtured a burgeoning fascination with the ropey sinews and tendons of anatomy, and the quilted patterns of cells beneath a microscope. 

A 2015 Al-Huda School alumna, Chowdhury earned her degree in bioengineering at the University of Maryland in 2019. Today, she works at the National Institute of Health Vaccine Research Center in the Vaccine Production Program. “I’ve been working on analytical support for different vaccine candidates! This year I focused on flu vaccines, but I will finally get to work on COVID-19 stuff soon too,” she remarked.

“Every time I see my seventh-grade [Al-Huda School] biology teacher, Sr. Sumayyah Fahmy, I always tell her she’s the reason I went into bioengineering. That was the first year we performed dissections, on frogs and cow liver, and even though I pretty much chickened out in doing it, it was such a great class. It made me realize how much I loved the subject,” Chowdhury said. 

Science and mathematics seemed to pour from an intrinsic eternal fountain—one propelled by the efforts of Chowdhury’s mother, who doubled as her instructor at Al-Huda High School. “I’ve always been good at math, and fun fact: my mom was my ninth-grade physics teacher. I hated physics even though I’m an engineer, but with my love of biology and my expertise in math I decided to go into bioengineering,” Chowdhury said. 

“I’ve always been interested in disease and illness treatment so getting to work on something that has dramatically affected our world this year is so exciting —as exciting as it can be during a global pandemic. . . knowing that with every disease Allah has sent down its cure motivates me to continue the research I do. Yes it’s hard and tedious, but knowing that one day there might be a cure for cancer or other diseases is incredible,” she said. Though her affection for biology once resembled the hesitant flicker of a bulb, Chowdhury succumbed to the lure of the subject she had enjoyed in her youth.

Knowing that with every disease, Allah has sent down its cure motivates me to continue the research I do.

“In sha Allah my goal is to go into graduate school to continue bioengineering. Even though a lot of my past experiences have dealt with various labs and research, I’ve always had a love and passion towards teaching! I guess it’s in my blood,” Chowdhury joked. 

She urges present Al-Huda School students to pace themselves with their studies. “I was determined to finish in four years but if there’s one thing I learned from being in college, it’s that you have the option to take your time! If there’s a subject you’re interested in and it might set you back a semester you should still take it! You always have options in college and stressing to finish on time doesn’t help anyone. I thought I had to finish on time or else I would be ‘behind,’ but that’s not the case,” Chowdhury said. “Try to figure out what subjects you like and don’t like. But also, know that when you’re in college there are so many options.” 

The hesitant child that once explored the Al-Huda School laboratory is but a faint echo; one displaced by the young woman milling about the halls of a much larger laboratory, and a cubicle to call her own.

Author: Mecca Mustafa

Mecca Mustafa graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a degree in English and minors in Creative Writing and Arabic. She also attended Al-Huda School as a young Muslimah :)