Graduate School ceremony was family affair
By Eric Coker
Nicole Rouhana had the most unique vantage point of all of the mothers who watched their sons and daughters walk across the stage at the Graduate School’s Commencement ceremony on May 21.
When Ziyad Rouhana received his master’s degree in electrical engineering, Nicole was a few feet away, sitting front and center onstage with President C. Peter Magrath and other dignitaries. She received her doctorate in rural nursing and addressed the class as the ceremony’s student speaker.
Nicole had hoped to surprise her family with the student-speaker announcement, but struggled with the news, Ziyad said.
“She’s awful at keeping secrets, especially one like that,” the 22-year-old from Vestal said. “She called me and said, ‘Did you hear who is speaking at graduation? I said, ‘No. Is it you?’ She was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t hear about it either!’ and hung up the phone."
Representing the Graduate School at Commencement was “an honor and a privilege,” Nicole said.
“I’m really honored because I’m an atypical student on this campus,” she said. “I know the University has some older students, but I was one of the oldest students in the [Decker School of Nursing] PhD program.”
Nicole and Ziyad did not intend to go to college together. (“It just sort of happened,” Nicole said.) Nicole, who received her certificate in nurse-midwifery from University of Medicine and Dentistry in 1989, her master’s in nursing from Binghamton University in 1996 and a post-master’s certificate as a family nurse practitioner from Stony Brook University, decided to enter the doctoral program in 2006. A nurse midwife for more than 20 years, the Vestal resident now works as a clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook University School of Nursing.
Ziyad, meanwhile, was being recruited by coaches from Binghamton University’s swimming team.
“That motivated me to look into Binghamton more,” said Ziyad, who also considered attending Rochester Institute of Technology. “I realized that the engineering program here was growing and was well on its way to becoming a greater program.”
The program impressed Ziyad so much that he entered the 4+1 fast track and received his undergraduate degree last May in computer engineering. And Ziyad so impressed the swim team that he became team captain.
“He embraced the daily challenges and patiently learned what he needed to do to improve and become a contributor to the team,” swimming coach Sean Clark said. “It was a pleasure for me to watch his resolve take hold in both his athletic and academic pursuits. He earned respect from his teammates as they saw how he pushed himself to and through his limits. In his third year here, I recall him winning his best event, the 200 butterfly, with a lifetime best at an important dual meet. That solidified his role on the team, and we knew he could be counted on to get things done.
“His excellent results in the classroom and toughness in the pool made him a role model for many of his teammates, especially the underclassmen,” Clark said. “It was easy for me to say, ‘If Z can do it, so can you!’”
Because Nicole was usually on campus only one day a week, the pair rarely bumped into one another. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t have fun being students together.
“It’s a family joke,” Nicole said. “When we started on campus I used to call him and say, ‘Ziyad, I’m on campus. Do you want to get together?’ More of a joke than anything!"
Nicole credited Decker’s faculty mentorship with helping her receive her doctorate.
“When you are a PhD, it’s not like clinically-based programs,” she said. “You’re working on a project that you’re passionate about and that you feel you can make a difference to society for. The faculty mentorship I had was astounding. They knew I was coming in with 20 years’ experience as a midwife and respected that as an advance-practice nurse I was interested in midwifery.”
“Nicole is a dynamic individual and has been an amazing doctoral student,” said Pamela Stewart Fahs, Decker chair in rural nursing. “She is passionate about rural health issues and influencing health policy to address these issues.”
Nicole will continue at Stony Brook and is completing a year-long fellowship with the National Rural Health Association, where she is working on a policy statement for recruitment and retainment of healthcare workers in rural communities.
“I’m excited because I’m working on a national level to address rural-health outcomes,” she said. “That is something Decker really prepared us for.”
Ziyad will work for Diamond Visionics in Vestal and hopes to eventually get into computer engineering. He stressed how Binghamton University and the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science have prepared him for life after college.
“Even with our senior design project, we were able to work with Lockheed Martin employees developing test equipment,” he said. “We were doing real-world work. They would train us in the skills, but then make us apply them.”
As they leave Binghamton University with an ’11 next to their names, Nicole and Ziyad both said they have learned a lot from each others’ campus success.
“The engineering students do a huge amount of work,” Nicole said. “For swim meets, there would be swimmers coming from the library who had been studying all night. To do a Division I sport and be in the engineering program is huge. I think it is really rigorous to do engineering and swimming together.”
“She’s the biggest overachiever I’ve ever met,” Ziyad said with laughter before becoming serious.
“I sat in on her doctoral defense and based on that alone, I was able to see the amount of work she has put in. Not to mention the other classes and coursework. She still has a full-time job and family. It’s quite a feat.”