Graduate school is a family affair for mother and son

Look out world

When Ziyad Rouhana received his master’s degree in electrical engineering in May, his mother, Nicole, wasn’t sitting in the audience with the rest of the parents. She was a few feet away, sitting front and center onstage with President C. Peter Magrath and other dignitaries. She not only received her doctorate in rural nursing, but also addressed the class as the ceremony’s student speaker.

“I’m sure it will be very emotional,” Nicole said in an interview a few days before the ceremony. “I’m proud of (Ziyad). To be part of Commencement at this level will be awesome.”

Nicole and Ziyad did not intend to go to college together. She 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, where she is a clinical assistant professor in the school of nursing. The Vestal resident, who has been a nurse-midwife for more than 20 years, entered Binghamton’s doctoral program in 2006.

Ziyad, meanwhile, was being recruited for Binghamton’s swimming team.

“That motivated me to look into Binghamton more,” says 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 in 2010 in computer engineering. And Ziyad so impressed the swim team that he became team captain.

“His excellent results in the classroom and toughness in the pool made him a role model for many of his teammates, especially the underclassmen,” swimming coach Sean Clark says. “It was easy for me to say ‘If Z can do it, so can you!’”

Nicole credits the Decker School of Nursing’s faculty mentorship with helping her receive her doctorate.

“When you are a PhD, it’s not like clinically based programs,” she says. “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 advanced-practice nurse I was interested in midwifery.”

“Nicole is a dynamic individual and has been an amazing doctoral student,” Pamela Stewart Fahs, Decker chair in rural nursing, says. “She is passionate about rural health issues and influencing health policy to address these issues.”

Nicole is continuing to work 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 retention of healthcare workers in rural communities .

“I’m excited because I’m working on a national level to address rural-health outcomes,” she says. “That is something Decker really prepared us for.”

Ziyad is working for Diamond Visionics in Vestal and hopes to eventually get into computer engineering. He emphasizes 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 says. “We were doing real-world work. They would train us in the skills, but then make us apply them.”

Having left Binghamton University with an ’11 next to their names, Nicole and Ziyad both say they learned a lot from each other’s success.

“The engineering students do a huge amount of work,” Nicole says. “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.” “She’s the biggest overachiever I’ve ever met,” Ziyad says 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.”