By: Miranda Burel ‘17

Published on

Azra Fazil headshot

With a double major in biology and Spanish, and a minor in German, Azra Fazil ’16 appears to have a lot on her plate. But that has not stopped her from taking advantage of the great opportunities presented to her during her time at Aquinas.

A junior enrolled in the Insignis Honors Program, Fazil speaks four languages, has been involved with service-learning, and has participated in the Summer Scholars Research Program under the guidance of Dr. Carmen Ruiz-Sanchez, Associate Professor of Spanish.

Fazil was born in Germany, just one year after her family fled Bosnia during the war. The family remained in Germany for about six years, before moving to America in August of 1996, when Fazil began kindergarten. “It’s a great conversation starter,” she said, when asked how her background has shaped her experience at Aquinas. “People want to know about your experiences, they want to know more, and they are genuinely interested in your story.”

Speaking Bosnian at home, Fazil became bilingual at an early age, which gave her an advantage when it came to studying other languages. With a knowledge of German already under her belt, Spanish has given her the most difficulty. But her hesitancy with Spanish was changed after she spent a summer researching the uses of the pronoun yo (I) in various dialects. Fazil and Dr. Ruiz-Sanchez conducted interviews with immigrants from Spanish speaking countries, in the Grand Rapids area. “I was able to improve my Spanish speaking and interviewing skills during this research, and I was able to identify accents better,” she said. “This research really raised confidence in my ability.” The pair took special note of the relationship between the Spanish and English languages, how they influence each other, and how they are changed over time.

“Azra is an intelligent, mature, and hard-working young woman who has been a pleasure to have in class and work with. She deserves high recognition for her full participation and enthusiastic engagement in every step of the study,” said Dr. Ruiz-Sanchez. “I supervised all of her work and was very impressed by her skills as a researcher, and especially by the accurateness of her transcriptions [of the interviews] since these can be very challenging for a non-native speaker.” Azra presented her research at the Student Symposium in April 2015.

During her sophomore year, Fazil had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia with an AQ service-learning trip. Drawn initially by the urban setting, the assistance in schools, and the work in soup kitchens, Fazil enjoyed her time on the trip and was lucky enough to lead it the following fall. “It’s a good way to volunteer and get involved when you don’t have much time throughout the rest of the school year.” Due to her busy schedule, Fazil, like most college students, doesn’t have the time to volunteer in the community like she wants to and said that service-learning trips provide a great alternative.

As an Insignis student, Fazil said she is now fully able to enjoy the benefits of the program. “I’m taking my first Insignis Humanities class this year, and I have learned so much!” She hopes to focus her senior project on biology since she has already conducted research for her Spanish major.

Expecting to graduate in December of 2016, Fazil wants to go on to medical school and focus on either in pathology or microbiology. She hopes that her work as a resident care aide at Holland Home will give her an upper hand. However if medical school doesn’t work out, then she hopes to get her Ph.D. with medical research in microbiology or pathology.

Fazil has made the most of her time here, and said “Because of Aquinas, I can encourage others to take full advantage of their college experience through research, service learning, and participation in the community.” As a piece of advice for younger and prospective students, Fazil said they should take their time. “Don’t overwhelm yourself, you don’t have to have a plan. You might have to stay an extra semester or year, but that’s okay. Opportunities arise during your time here, and you should embrace them.”