PATH TO UCCS GRADUATE DEGREE BEGAN DECADE AGO FOR IRAQI REFUGEE

Tom Hutton, University Relations, (719) 262-3439, (719) 351-6519, thutton@uccs.edu Editor’s Note: Reporters and photographers are welcome to attend commencement ceremonies.

While huddled in a tent in a Turkish refugee camp, earning an advanced degree from an American university seemed an impossible dream for Zamawang “Zama” Faisel Almemar-Ray.

But 10 years after her family fled Iraq, Almemar-Ray will join an estimated 400 University of Colorado at Colorado Springs students in winter commencement ceremonies at 2 p.m. Friday at the Pikes Peak Center. The ceremonies are for students who completed degree requirements in August or December 2008. In May, UCCS will have ceremonies for spring graduates.

Almemar-Ray completed coursework in August will be awarded a master’s degree in chemistry. She is pursuing a doctoral degree in engineering with a biology option and a dream that seemed impossible as her family fled Saddam Hussein’s rule and their home in northern Iraq.

“This is a great country,” Almemar-Ray, who is now 25, said. “I am thankful for the opportunities it has given me.”

In fleeing from Iraq, Almemar-Ray’s family divided. An older brother and sister stayed in Iraq. She and a younger brother moved with their parents from Kurdistan in northern Iraq to the refugee camp on a U.S. Army base, in Guam and eventually to Colorado Springs where they were enrolled in the former East Middle School’s English as a Second Language Program.

Initially segregated from the regular students at East, Zama progressed to Palmer High School, excelling in regular classes as well as advanced placement courses that allowed her to earn all “A” marks and a spot on the 2002 Mayor’s Top 100 list. She attended UCCS and earned two bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry – with honors – in 2007.

“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor – a PhD or an MD,” Almemar-Ray said. “I am thrilled to be able to achieve that dream while staying local and close to my family.”

Cheering for Almemar-Ray on Friday will be her husband, Matt Ray, as well as her parents, Faisel and Galawej Almemar, and brother, Hoshang Almemar, a current UCCS student who hopes to graduate in May with degrees in physics and philosophy.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs, is the fastest growing university in Colorado, and one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The University offers 30 bachelor’s degrees, 19 master’s and four doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls about 8,000 students annually.