By Matt Watson
A lot of people dislike going to the dentist. For some dentists, the feeling is mutual.
Abdalla Elmedani was a dentist who hated dentistry. He wanted to study engineering, but he earned a degree in dental surgery from the University of Khartoum in Sudan because he comes from a large family with a large number of opinions. He grew up overseas but was born in California, so he returned to the United States and worked as a dental assistant for two years until finally deciding that filling cavities wasn’t fulfilling.
To cleanse his palate, Elmedani enrolled in computer science at MSU Denver, and he’ll graduate Friday glad that he did. He wanted a challenge, and he’ll finish college with a job. He’ll be promoted from Level I computer scientist intern to Level II computer scientist at the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, after graduation.
It wasn’t always easy. When Elmedani was assigned his first project as an intern at ITS, he felt like everything was in a foreign language. Because it was.
“At school we were learning Java, and this code was written in C# (pronounced C Sharp). It was written by senior level and midlevel developers, so the code was at a high level, and I was just beginning. It felt like I had never seen code in my life,” Elmedani said.
Several months later, Elmedani and the team he was working on were awarded a Department of Commerce Bronze Medal for superior performance on the project, and a year and a half into the internship, Elmedani’s supervisor nominated him for the Student Intern of the Year Award for MSU Denver’s Applied Learning Center, which he won. Not bad for a dentist.
“I took that project personally – to me it was a challenge. It was going to be my first job as a developer, and I wanted to do very well. I was able to not only write the test cases, I fixed every bug we know of,” Elmedani said.
Like anyone who can earn degrees in dentistry and computer science on different continents, Elmedani was driven to complete the task at hand. His manager has had to tell him to go home at the end of the day, and he said he’s even dreamed in computer code before. His wife told him he was talking in his sleep in programming language at one point.
In addition to a job offer, Elmedani’s hard work, growing skills and positive demeanor have earned high praise from his superiors.
“Abdalla stands out among all the interns we have worked with over the past several years. In our combined 36 years of federal government service, this is the first time we have experienced this level of technical skill, dedication and willingness to learn from a Level I intern,” wrote Julie Kub, division chief of Software Engineering, Analysis and Methods, and Kristen Davis, IT program manager. “His positive attitude has permeated throughout the Institute and his technical contributions are in high demand.”
Between the internship, school and spending time with his family, including a 1-year-old daughter, Elmedani has also made time for tutoring his peers through Colorado-Wyoming Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a program that provides financial, educational and personal support for students of color in STEM fields.
“I didn’t do everything by myself. A lot of people contribute to my success, so I feel like I’m obligated to do the same thing for others,” he said.
Elmedani has one peer whose success he’s particularly invested in. His wife Fatima, whom he met in dental school in Sudan, just completed her first semester in computer science at MSU Denver this fall. If she has any struggles, she knows someone who can help.
“I feel like the school changed my life. I’m a different person now than I was three years ago,” Elmedani said. “I believe anyone is capable of anything if you put the hard work into it.”
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