Four years after landing in U.S., graduating ISU senior is on his way to medical school

Mohamed Shogar

Mohamed Elrashed Shogar, graduating in genetics, stands inside a Molecular Biology Building laboratory where he has conducted much of his undergraduate research. Photo by Christopher Gannon. Larger image. All photos and videos were shot following physical distancing guidelines, and with staff wearing face coverings.

AMES, Iowa — A headache started Mohamed Shogar’s journey to a career in medicine.

His mother’s relentless headaches forced her to travel more than 900 miles from their home to Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, for treatment. She never found relief, and it frustrated Shogar, who is graduating from Iowa State University next weekend with a bachelor’s degree in genetics.

“She’s the reason,” Shogar said. “She motivated me to pursue a career in medicine.”

He was also bothered by the physician shortage in his hometown of Al Fashir. Shogar noticed the same physician shortage when he arrived in the United States and again thought, “Why not pursue a career in medicine to help them out?”

Shogar’s mother has a Ph.D. and his father is a high school principal. Education was the biggest priority for his family. So, after graduating high school, Shogar came to the U.S. in 2016.

After traveling to Egypt to meet with the U.S. ambassador and receive a green card, Shogar was on his way.

The adventure begins

“The first time, when I landed in Chicago, I was so overwhelmed,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know the language or the culture. I had just finished high school, and the future wasn’t clear to me.”

He headed to Cedar Rapids, where he lived with his cousin for a few months and talked to newfound friends about his educational options in the state. One friend suggested starting out at a community college before heading to a four-year university. So, Shogar enrolled at Kirkwood Community College and took English as a Second Language classes while working full time at the Nordstrom warehouse. He gained medical experience as a phlebotomist at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids before taking some courses at the University of Iowa.

In 2018, he transferred to Iowa State to finish his genetics degree. At the same time, he’s worked as a phlebotomist at Mary Greeley Medical Center.

“I wouldn’t have done it without the people who helped me out,” he said. “I’m so grateful for them.”

During his first semester in Ames, Shogar had to take organic chemistry – considered one of the most difficult courses at Iowa State. He struggled during the first exam and felt defeated. But he went to the office of chemistry professor Arthur Winter for help. They talked about college courses generally, and how to study. On Shogar’s next organic chemistry exam, he received a near-perfect score.

Shogar found community and friendship in his classes as well as student organizations, such as the Sudan United Association and the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students.

Next step: medical school

He typically travels back to Sudan every winter to visit his family, but with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and his post-graduation plans, that visit is on hold. Right now, he’s in the midst of the nerve-wracking process of applying to medical schools.

Shogar said going to school and working through the pandemic has been mentally and emotionally draining.

“It also had an impact on my education journey,” he said. “I was not able to shadow and volunteer, which is a very important part in medical school applications.”

He also found a mentor in Mark Hargrove, Morrill Professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology (BBMB), who talked with Shogar about his plans after graduation. To build his research experience, Gordon connected Shogar with Alan DiSpirito, professor of BBMB, whose lab works with methanobactin to study its effects on Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder that causes excessive copper build-up in the body.

“This has been an amazing experience, honestly,” Shogar said. “It’s been such a welcoming environment.

“The opportunities that I got here, I don’t think I would be able to get in Sudan. In terms of the quality of education, I can’t even compare it.”