Twenty-two-year-old Huzaifa Kamran Khawaja has been in the United States for less than three years but has made quite a mark in a short time. In 2017, his father, a retired Pakistani Air Force logistics officer and his mother, a homemaker, immigrated with the family from Pakistan, when Huzaifa was in the midst of completing his A-levels, roughly equivalent to a college-prep high school in the United States.
They settled in Napa County, and Huzaifa’s cousins recommended he start his college journey at Napa Valley College, where they, too, had studied.
“After one semester, I knew it was the right place for me,” said Huzaifa, who plans to become a doctor. At the end of spring 2020 semester at NVC, Khawaja will have:
- Studied molecular and cellular biology and earned two associate degrees, one in natural science and mathematics, and one in natural science with an emphasis on life sciences, in preparation for a transfer to UC-Berkeley to continue his pre-med studies;
- received one of only 10 Hite Scholar awards nationwide by the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, which recognizes the academic achievement of students at associate’s degree-granting colleges, helping them to grow as scholars and leaders;
- been named a semi-finalist on the All-USA Academic Team and a 2020 Coca-Cola Academic Team Gold Scholar, one of only 50 nationwide;
- been elected to the Associated Students of Napa Valley College and represented the student body as the student trustee on the Napa Valley College Board of Trustees;
- served on two Trustee committees, Real Property and Finance, as well as on two hiring committees and the student discipline hearing panel;
- served as an officer on the Dreamers of Community Change student club;
- and is vice president for NVC’s Phi Theta Kappa college project.
“I keep a diary to help me schedule my time,” he says with a smile. “When I am of service to others, I feel good. My culture and my parents raised me that way.”
The middle son of three, Huzaifa says that he has “always had a thirst for knowledge and been interested in science,” and that understanding molecular and cellular biology will give him a solid foundation for his two years at UC Berkeley preparing for med school, with an eye on perhaps pursuing cardiology and cardiatric surgery.
“My aunts and grandmother have heart problems,” he explained, “and one aunt died of a heart attack, which is why I’m interested in cardiology. I even have a suturing kit and I practice when I have free time, on bananas and on the skin-type material that comes with the kit.”
Huzaifa’s older brother is a senior electrical engineering student at Berkeley, and his younger brother is in his first year at NVC. When asked about his hopes for medical school, Huzaifa is humble but eager when he allows that “either USCF or Stanford is the dream.”
The study he coauthored for The Biophysical Journal will certainly make an impression on any college admissions officer. He did the work, along with another undergraduate and two graduate students, under Dr. Alan Miller, a science professor at Touro University.
Miller had designed a study to test the electrophysiology of cell membranes, studying elements that may block specific channels that act as doorways in and out of cell membrane.
“Another student and I made cultures, extracted DNA, and made circular DNA and RNA for the team. We provided more than 30 strands of RNA,” Huzaifa said, proudly. “Dr. Miller is an amazing mentor.”
Even as he collects accolades, awards and scholarships to support his next academic endeavors, Huzaifa is careful to acknowledge the support of others that has helped him to achieve so much, including “The Almighty, my family, NVC teachers and friends, … Special thanks to [Phi Theta Kappa Faculty Advisor] Cathy Gillis for showering her trust onto me and being my mentor. Napa Valley College is the platform that has given me the opportunity and resources to launch to the sky,” he said.
And following his practice of being of service to others, he offers sage advice to the rest of us, as well:
“Remember that your life is like a sine wave, with ups and downs. If you are down, don’t forget it’s going to go back up. And when it does go back up, you’ll be more durable and fulfilled at the end.”