Each year we celebrate a handful of our amazing seniors who are graduating and moving on to bright futures in an array of fields. This is the third installment of our 2019 Commencement Student Profile series.
Diala Noofoory is a study in patience and perseverance.
During high school in her native Syria, she grew passionate about neuroscience and hoped to study it in college, only to find a dearth of programs in her country. She pressed her family to find a neuroscience program abroad but met with resistance: They supported her ambition and encouraged her to pursue her educational dreams but preferred that she stay local.
“Attempting to travel and study abroad as a woman meant battling cultural norms that existed around me,” she says. “My English was excellent, and so instead I attended the University of Damascus at age 18 to study English and Linguistics, just to get going.”
She took classes on and off between 2007 and 2011 while also focusing on family obligations, but her degree would have to wait as civil war broke out in 2011 and Noofoory and other family members fled Syria the following year, originally moving to Cairo and then Lebanon.
Her studies on hold, she came to the U.S. in 2014 and settled in New Brunswick, NJ, with her then fiancé, who was a graduate student at Rutgers–New Brunswick.
In 2017, at age 28 and having transferred her college credits from Syria, Noofoory finally went after her dream by enrolling as a junior at RU-N, majoring in psychology with a minor in neuroscience. She immediately began working as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of Professor Laszlo Zaborszky, of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN), who studies the neural circuitry that cholinergic cells develop in the basal forebrain, whose destruction plays a central role in the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
There is a comforting sense of belonging at RU-N.
Noofoory received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in 2018 to continue working uninterrupted with Zaborsky’s team, and with his encouragement, she presented a poster on her research at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference last November in San Diego, CA. For all her hard work, she also received the SASN Dean’s Scholarship for this past academic year.
Since fall 2018, Noofoory has also been an undergraduate research assistant in the Rutgers University Mind Brain Analysis (RUMBA) Lab, run by Psychology Professors Stephen and Catherine Hanson. The lab uses computational and neuroimaging techniques to study brain connectivity in health and disease. The Hansons trained Noofoory on lab-specific research concepts and how to process and analyze fMRI data, and are currently supervising her in a research project examining brain-activity patterns in certain neurodegenerative diseases.
Noofoory is finishing up her undergraduate coursework this summer and plans to use her training to pursue a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience and do research in the clinical or neuropsychology area of the field.
“There is a comforting sense of belonging at RU-N, and over these past four semesters, pursuing an education in brain sciences moved from unattainable goal to viable option for me,” says Noofoory. “I am thankful for the immense support of my research mentors. And I am thankful for my wonderful husband and amazing family, whose infinite support has helped me achieve my long-sought-after academic goals.”