Yaseen Ahmed

Year of Graduation: 
Yaseen Ahmed at Exeter

"The thing I really value is how Harkness pervades everything,"

Yaseen Ahmed ’19 gets so animated talking about the research he’s been participating in this winter through his molecular genetics course that it seems clear he’s found his passion. As he breathlessly explains how his class inserted a segment of DNA into a Drosophila genome after isolating that DNA — using polymerase chain reaction, digesting the DNA with a primer, and ligating it back in — and then sent it off for sequencing, he pauses only to apologize for all the scientific terminology. His enrollment this spring in BIO670, a biology research course that involves collaboration with Stanford University researchers in analyzing the insulin pathways in fruit flies in an effort to move toward a cure for diabetes, seems to confirm that excitement.

Ahmed’s energy comes through just as clearly when he discusses U.S. History and a paper he wrote recently about the election of Rutherford B. Hayes and the Compromise of 1877, the contrast between African-American and Southern Democrat perspectives and what that meant for Reconstruction.

When he pauses to catch his breath there’s space to grasp why he was drawn to Exeter by the tagline on materials he received as a middle school student in Lisle, Illinois: Imagine a place where it’s cool to be smart.

“I was a little apprehensive about the idea of going away to school at first,” says Ahmed. But two visits later he was sold. “The thing I really value is how Harkness pervades everything,” whether it’s conversations with faculty outside the classroom or discussions with peers in the dining hall, at club meetings, or late at night in the dorm. “I feel like I learn a lot from everybody here and I’m really thankful for that experience,” he says. A plus: he’s no longer the only member of his family on campus—brother Ibrahim is a prep who lives in the room next door to Ahmed in Webster Hall. (Their nine-year-old sister may yet one day be the third Exonian in the family.)

Ahmed has been involved with the Project for Better Education, which Rajrishi Das ’19 dreamed up as a way to make education more accessible for people in less developed parts of the world. Together with three other classmates, the two have been working to create back-end technology to provide online-based classes. Using this technology, students would serve as tutors from their dorm rooms, reaching learners around the world. Ahmed and the other team members have been so busy with the rigorous course load all uppers face that they have put the project on temporary hold. Yet Ahmed is hopeful it will eventually get off the ground.

A member of the crew team, Ahmed also serves on the Relay for Life planning committee and is a dorm representative on the student council and a member of its policy committee. That group has been working to pass a less heteronormative visitation policy.

“The student council has been working for a few years now on a policy that fits the school’s mission of inclusivity but also accommodates every student’s needs,” says Ahmed. “That’s been a big puzzle.”

He’s also co-head of Big Sib Little Sib, which pairs Exonians with students from the community. They meet once a month, as a group, to play games, watch movies and sing karaoke.

“Students act as role models and hang out and really get to know these kids and give them someone to look up to,” says Ahmed, describing his own little sib, a local six-year-old, as “the most adorable kid.” He refreshed his Minecraft skills over the summer so as to be able to play alongside his young friend.

Ahmed is looking ahead to spring break, when he will join 17 other students and three faculty members on a 12-day trip to South Africa that will include stops in Cape Town, Addo, Chintsa and Port Elizabeth. During the trip, Exeter’s first Global Initiatives venture in South Africa, the students will learn about apartheid, as well as the lasting effects of hunting and safari tours. They’ll visit with local tribes and have already prepared for the looming Cape Town water crisis. It will be Ahmed’s first time off North American soil, and he says with every planning meeting, his anticipation only grows.

Imagine a place where it’s cool to get to know yourself.

— Sarah Zobel