Dalal El-Barbarawi’s love of learning and passion for change

by Jules Banks / Features Editor

21-year-old Dalal El-Barbarawi. Photo courtesy of Noe Vazquez.

Dalal El-Barbarawi may only be 21, but despite her age, she has a lot on her plate. With a biochemistry major and international studies minor, coupled with a learning commons job (where she tutors students in six different subjects) and a full-time job at Khudeira Medical Center, El-Barbarawi said that the thing she sacrifices the most is sleep. 

However, El-Barbarawi said that she actively seeks out this busy lifestyle. In order to gain experience in the medical field, she spent an entire week contacting different medical organizations around Chicago, hoping to find a clinic or hospital that would let her work with them.

“I sent out over 200 emails to different doctors and called 30 different doctor’s offices until I finally got to one that said, ‘Ok, you can come in and shadow,’” she said. El-Barbarawi now works at the medical center full-time after she finished shadowing. 

At Khudeira, most of the patients speak Arabic, but there are occasionally Spanish-speaking patients as well. El-Barbarawi is prepared to help them all. She said the doctors there were impressed by her work ethic, as well as her trilingualism, as El-Barbarawi can speak fluent English, Arabic, and Spanish. 

El-Barbarawi explained that seeing the difference she makes within her field gives her a kind of satisfaction that she did not receive in her previous work with political science. 

“I love it,” El-Barbarawi said. “Interacting with the patients and seeing that I’m able to make a physical difference that I see the result of is exactly why I switched into the medical field.”

In addition to her work with Khudeira, El-Barbarawi is also a cancer researcher. She began this project in December of 2018, her research centered around a castrate-resistant prostate cancer. Tiha Long, a health sciences professor at Roosevelt, mentored El-Barbarawi through the process of writing a proposal for a grant in order to gain funding for the research. 

Long describes El-Barbarawi as someone who is “guided by her ethics.”

“She really always stands out,” said Long, in regard to El-Barbarawi’s intelligence and drive for research. 

Long also referenced El-Barbarawi’s leadership, citing the amount of organizations she participates in around Roosevelt.

“She’s clearly a hard worker if you look at all the activities she’s a part of, and her grades, which are fantastic,” said Long. 

El-Barbarawi presenting her cancer research at the University of San Diego in California. Photo courtesy of El-Barbarawi.

As well as being the Natural Science Club’s community outreach coordinator, El Barbarawi is the founder of both Roosevelt’s chapter of MedLife, a medical organization that participates in outreach in Africa and South America, and Roosevelt’s Muslim Student Association. 

“We didn’t really have any representation, so we created a safe organization for Muslim and non-Muslim students to come together,” said El-Barbarawi. She said that when the group was first founded, it had only four members. Now, four years later, the organization has grown to around thirty members.

El-Barbarawi, a Palestinian-American, is also an outspoken educator in her community, often hosting on-campus events to teach people about the plight of those living in the Gaza Strip. She explained that one of her primary goals is to educate people on the conflict in the area, as well as advocating for those suffering in that area. 

El-Barbarawi has deep personal connections to Palestine, as most of her family still lives there.

“Almost all of my mom’s family [is in Palestine,] they are nine siblings in total,” she said. Her relatives live in a village called Halhul, and often deal with a lack of basic necessities like clean water, according to El-Barbarawi. 

Bethany Barratt, a professor of political science and director of international studies at Roosevelt, recalled a specific moment when El-Barbarawi’s actions stood out to her. As a first year student, El-Barbarawi participated in an independent study with the John-Marshall Legal Clinic, an opportunity that the Human Rights Center at Roosevelt helped to establish. During the independent study, Barratt said that El-Barbarawi did even more than what was expected of her, using her fluency in Arabic to help others. 

“She went beyond and offered her services to translate for a Syrian refugee program,” said Barratt. “I thought that was really impressive.”

Photo courtesy of El-Barbarawi.

El-Barbarawi will be the commencement speaker for her graduation on Dec. 13, and has big plans for her future after Roosevelt. After a gap year, she plans to attend medical school. However, she won’t be resting during that year in between.

“I’ll have an entire semester to study, which increases my chances of getting into a better school,” said El-Barbarawi. “And in that gap year, after doing another semester of research, studying, and a few other things, I plan to pursue all of my passions and interests that I haven’t had a chance to, including baking.”

Additionally, El-Barbarawi plans to lay down the groundwork for her non-profit organization during the gap year. She plans on calling it “For a Better Future,” and it will focus on offering humanitarian aid to Palestine. She explained that will use connections she has in the area to begin the nonprofit. 

She encourages people to take advantage of every opportunity laid out before them. 

“Make your time worth it, because there are people that are dying to be in your spot,” she said. 

Categories: Feature


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