Student’s Profile Series: Nada Arakji

by Wadha Al-Jaber


Nada Mohamed Arakji is 21 years old Business Administration senior at Carnegie Mellon University, who also happens to be a professional swimmer representing Qatar at local, regional and international swimming competitions.

Despite the fact that Nada was invited to dine with none other than Meryl Streep (yes, I’m talking about the 3-time oscar winner), and having her own Facebook fan page, Nada remains incredibly grounded and humble, focused on her goals, and true to herself.

This post will definitely inspire you to work even harder, to never make excuses, and to chase your dreams no matter what they are.

So Nada, when did you start swimming and how did you feel at that time?

I started swimming at the age of 9 in a small local club called Tidal Waves. At that time, I just wanted to train so I could be fit and stay healthy. As I started going to more training sessions, I fell in love with such a sport and my coach noticed that I started getting better and better, and saw that I was dedicated and passionate to take swimming on to another level (competition level). I competed in many club and school swimming competitions inside and outside of Qatar and won many medals. My club’s coach thought it was time that I move to higher level swimming, that’s when I was selected to join the Qatar National Team in December 2011.

Considering the fact that you are a professional swimmer, how often do you have to train?

As a professional swimmer, I have to train a lot! So 6 times a week, and sometimes within those days I have to train twice a day.

You represented Qatar in London 2012 summer Olympics, so can you share your experience with us?

Representing my country Qatar at the London 2012 Olympics was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! The whole experience was so surreal, especially in the opening ceremony, carrying our Qatar flag up high with pride. Before my race began, standing on the starting blocks was incredibly emotional. Remembering that I was the first Qatari female swimmer to represent my country Qatar at the Olympics was such an honor and was ready to make history and inspire other young girls to commit and do the sport they want to do, especially swimming. I met many athletes from all around the world and it felt amazing to have the family and the whole Qatari Delegation Team to come and support us.

How do you balance between being a full-time CMU student and a professional athlete?

Balancing between being a full-time CMU student and a professional athlete can be challenging at times but the key thing is to organize my time well. It can get overwhelming at times, but because I am committed and love pursuing both, I remind myself that it will all be worth it in the long-run, and that is my source of motivation when times get tough. Even though I balance between both education and sports, education has always been my priority.

What would you advise students who are aspiring to be professional athletes?

Sports in general is great to maintain a healthy lifestyle regardless of whether you decide to take a sport professionally or not. My advise to students who are aspiring to be professional athletes is to follow your dreams and be the best you can be. Don’t give up! When you put your mind to it, anything is possible. Even when times get tough and you feel pressured, just remind yourself that it will get better and that as long as you try your best, no matter what the outcome is, you should be proud of what you have accomplished.



Fashionable Students Series: MinKyung Kang

By Wadha Al-Jaber

MinKyung Kang is a South Korean student who is majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring in Business Administration. With her bubbly personality, charismatic aura, and versatile fashion sense, MinKyung was able to capture everyone’s attention, including mine. So naturally, I picked up the phone, contacted her and the rest is history.

MinKyung, since you like traveling and exploring other cultures and traditions, do you think traveling influenced your fashion sense in any way? 

Not really, but the way people looked at my style motivated me to look more presentable to others. For example, in Qatar, there are not many vintage shops, and like many other Koreans I love vintage, but the thing is wearing vintage is not unique in Korea, but a lot of people here in Qatar adore my items, so I got motivated more to find better vintage shops in Korea.

Who is your style icon and why? 

Actually, I don’t have a style icon. I never follow anyone, but I like to look at pictures of people’s street style.

Describe your style in 3 words:

Ambitious, Fabulous, and Plastic

What do you mean by plastic? 

My friends call me plastic as a compliment, because my make-up and style are very well done almost like a Barbie doll.

What’s your favorite item in your closet? 

Since I love vintage and crazy patterns, my favorite item is a vintage patterned dress.

What is the ultimate fashion tip you would like to share with us?

Do not try to follow the majority, and don’t try to follow trends just because they are hot and popular. Try to find what really defines you and try to be unique in order to differentiate yourself. I think that having your own style is the most important thing.



MinKyung, If you had to choose between the following, which one would you choose:

1) Flats or heels? Heels

2) Dark or nude lipstick? Dark. I love bright colors!

3) A short black dress or a leather jacket? A leather jacket. Obviously!

4) Vintage or runway? Vintage

5) Black or platinum hair? Platinum




Day one outfit details:

Shirt: Vintage

Pants: South Korean Store

Shoes: Uterquë

Watch: Marc Jacobs






Day two outfit details:

T-shirt: Street Shop in South Korea

Jeans: Street Shop in South Korea

Hat: Street Shop in South Korea

Watch: Marc Jacobs

Sneakers: Adidas





Day three outfit details:

Dress: Vintage Shop in South Korea (That is MinKyung’s favorite item in her closet)

Shoes: Zara

Sixty Minutes with Osaama Shehzad: Professor Terrance Murphy


Today, we walk you through a journey of life with Dr. Terrance Murphy who is a proud father, a husband, and a mentor. He is a man of experience and integrity, who believes in love, loyalty, kindness, and equality.

I approached you last semester for an interview, and as I came to you again this semester, I finally got the response I wanted. Why did it take you so long to say yes?

“I think there are probably other people here that students know more about… and why would you want to choose me? You have never even been in my class.” 

When I asked him for the interview, Dr. Murphy did not decide quickly. Unlike the preparation time with my previous interviewees, it took me more than two months -and a lot of convincing- to finally have the honor of spending sixty minutes with Dr. Murphy. So, why did it take so long? A busy schedule might be one of the first answers to come in mind, but when I asked him, he simply expressed his surprise at why a student he had never taught would want to interview him. Also, he was surprised because he has never been interviewed before.

Dr. Murphy’s personality sparked my curiosity during the first week of orientation when he invited me and the rest of Biological Sciences department for an annual dinner at his house. I was so touched by the hospitality offered by him and his wife that I instantly became a fan. Ever since that evening, whenever I see him, he always greets me and converses in a very friendly manner.


Is it because of your innate cleverness that you make very tricky exams?

“Maybe I was clever,” Dr. Murphy says.

In some classes,  we usually get extra credit for doing out-of-class activities or for solving bonus problems. But in Dr. Murphy’s class, you’ll always have a chance to get extra credit if you’re paying enough attention. When he is solving problems on board, he might make very small, unnoticeable errors. But if you get to point them out, you will get that extra credit.

When Dr. Murphy was a kid, his parents realized that he should start school early, but to be enrolled in an elementary school in Seattle, he would have to be born by the 1st of November, which wasn’t the case. To make odds turn into Dr. Murphy’s favor, his parents changed his birth certificate from November 16th to November 1st.

From a very young age, Dr. Murphy “had a propensity for working with mechanical things,” as he says. He would fix the washing machines, the cars in his house, simply because he loved to. But mechanical work has nothing to do with Chemistry – his profession. When he enrolled as Electrical Engineering student in University of Washington for his undergraduate studies, he realized that Engineering was “too theoretical” for him. So, he switched to Chemistry upon his advisor’s advice since he was doing well in it.

smart question

Did you try to burn down your house?

“Oh no, I was just doing an experiment, showing my sister how a match gun works.”

Children almost always get in trouble. There is no doubt about that. However, Dr. Murphy never expected that the troubles he would be involved in would result in huge leaps of fire. During sixth grade, Dr. Murphy learned how to make match guns that shot out flaming matches. Amazed at his new talent, he went to his sister’s room to impress her, but things did not turn out well. While he was firing the flaming matches from the second floor into the driveway, one of the matches was caught by the wind and blew into the four Juniper trees outside his house. Instantly, all trees caught on fire, and no matter how hard little Terrance tried to extinguish it, the fire would just grow bigger and bigger. Fortunately, the fire brigade arrived soon and extinguished the fire, and young Terrance had a serious talk with the fire warden.

Since nobody from Dr. Murphy’s family liked those trees, Dr. Murphy claims that the whole fire incident eventually became a “blessing in disguise” as they were cut down after the fire was put out.

burn down house

Dr. Murphy in early 40’s when he was two years old

Your high school crush made you connect with God? 

“She helped me understand that (the relationship with God),” Dr. Murphy says.

Many teenagers go through the period of teenage infatuation. Dr. Murphy was no different. While this time period might simply be a “good memory of past,” it was a life-turning event for Dr. Murphy.

Dr. Murphy met his high school crush, Marleen, in his chemistry class, but it did not develop into a relationship. However, Marleen did make him aware of building a relationship with God. Dr. Murphy was a person with a disengaged relationship in God… until he listened to Marleen’s faith perspectives, which made his life take a steep turn by devoting him to God.

After his high school graduation, Dr. Murphy enrolled in the University of Washington, whereas Marleen enrolled somewhere else and  they maintained a good friendship.

“Her [Marleen’s] going-off to one university that… you know… things just developed differently. And then I met Mary Anne in my second year of university,” says Dr. Murphy.  

Was it a love-at-first-sight when you first met Mary Anne?

“Mary Anne is my best friend. If anyone wants to get married, my advice is marry the woman who is your best friend,” Dr. Murphy says.

If we see a happily married couple together for more than 45 years, we would probably assume that it was a love at first sight, but Dr. Murphy did not like his wife’s first impression when he met her at the University of Washington, where he received his Bachelors Degree in Chemistry in 1967.

“She was from a private school. She just seemed like… maybe out of my league,” he says.

Regardless, the first impression did not become the last. Dr. Murphy and Mary Anne became better acquainted, which later progressed into a deep friendship. In Dr. Murphy’s family, there were a lot of arguments and domestic fights, which is why they never talked deeply about things and shared their feelings. However, Mary Anne belonged to a family where they would talk, share, and discuss things more deeply. So, becoming friends with Mary Anne revealed to Dr. Murphy the delight and bliss he was unaware of: sharing thoughts, problems, and ideas. It was not long before the two became best friends, and after knowing each other for 6 years, they happily married in 1970.

Mr and Mrs. Murphy

Marriage Question 1

Marriage Question 2 

What was the saddest moment of your life?

Dr. Murphy describes his parents’ death as the saddest moments in his life.  In 1980, when he was a graduate student, Dr. Murphy’s father died, creating a big loss as he realized it was the first time in his life without a father nearby.  In 1992, while he was living in Oman, he received a call sharing that his mother had unexpectedly died and Dr. Murphy took it very hard because he was not able to say goodbye to her.
saddest moments

Are there any regrets in your life?

“I look at life a little differently than that. You make mistakes and things like that… I don’t have any lingering regrets,” Dr. Murphy says.

Dr. Murphy is a believer of forgiving and forgetting. Thus, when I asked him about what was his most regretful moment in life, we had four seconds of silence. However, Dr. Murphy gladly shared his sad moments from his childhood with us. When he was a child, he used to own a female dog named “Boots,” but his father decided to give her up. So, he dropped her at the dog pound. Several days after dropping her off, Dr. Murphy was still missing Boots when he heard a noise coming from his porch. Curious to know what the noise was about, he opened the door and to his surprise, it was Boots standing outside in the pouring rain.

“She had somehow escaped and came all the way across Seattle ten miles away. I don’t know how she did it. She came back to our house. So I begged my father to be able to keep her but he said no, so we took her back. And then she was adopted by somebody who had a lot of acreage further outside Seattle,” Dr. Murphy says.

Dr. Murphy never saw Boots again, and losing her remained one of the sad moments of his life as a child.

Why did you continue teaching during civil war in Beirut, Lebanon?

“I felt like I needed to complete my commitment.”

After completing his Masters degree from the University of Washington in 1973, Dr. Murphy and his wife applied for teaching jobs at the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon to get some overseas exposure. Fortunately, they were accepted, and he and his wife moved to Beirut in the summer of 1973. Settling in a country of a different culture and environment was a challenge, but it was not the only one the couple faced. Soon, the Lebanese Civil War started, and Mr. & Mrs. Murphy had to move to Jordan until the school reopened.

The war was still going even after the school reopened, and the situation was still life threatening. Dr. Murphy had seen rockets flying over his house. During the civil war, he and his wife had slept in their kitchen, or stayed in the basement, or moved to safer places in order to survive. In April 1976, Mrs. Murphy returned to the United States but Dr. Murphy opted to remain in Beirut to complete his contract regardless of the fact that the graduating class of the school decreased from 80 to 6.


Why did you decide to teach in the Middle East, and not in the U.S.?

Following his teaching commitment to Beirut, Dr. Murphy went back to Seattle to pursue a Ph.D. degree from the University of Washington in 1976. After six years of working as TA and a Ph.D. candidate, Dr. Murphy received his degree in 1982, and a job offer from Ithaca College. While Dr. Murphy was applying to Ithaca, he also applied to the University in Bahrain because he loved working in the Middle East, despite the War. However, the Assistant Chair of the university told him that they had no vacancies; yet three days later, Dr. Murphy received an apology letter from the Chair of the department, saying that the Assistant Chair had made a mistake and that they really wanted Dr. Murphy to come. By that time, Dr. Murphy had already signed a contract with Ithaca College for a one-year temporary position. Thus, he refused the job offer from Bahrain, stating that “a contract is a contract.”

Dr. Murphy taught in Ithaca College for five years. After hearing that Sultan Qaboos University (the first university in Oman) had opened, with the need for American faculty, Dr. Murphy applied there and in August of 1987, he and his family moved to Oman where they stayed for thirteen years.

In 2000, Dr. Murphy went to the UAE where he served as chair of Department of Natural and Quantitative Sciences at Zayed University, both the Dubai and Abu Dhabi campuses. After serving in the UAE for two years, Dr. Murphy moved to Doha, where he was one of the inaugural faculty members at Weill Cornell Medical College in Education City. Following his six years at WCMC-Q, he received a job offer from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar in 2008. As of now, it has been seven years that Dr. Murphy has   taught our exceptional Tartans.  Surely, it goes without saying that Dr. Murphy is a man of unparalleled experience and an enthusiast of cultural diversity.

Dr. Murphy in Oman 

Oman 1

Oman 2

Please share more about your family

Dr. Murphy is a proud father of two sons and a daughter. His eldest son, Jason, 35, is an Office Manager for Trimaxion, an art handling firm in New York City. His daughter, Erinn, 32, is a principal and a senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, an investment bank in Houston, Texas. His youngest son, Christopher, 26, is an office manager at Kemberton Healthcare Services in Nashville, Tennessee.

When I asked Dr. Murphy about some of his priorities, he said family.   He simply responded that he always made sure he made time for his children. “I decided I was going to be a more involved father than my father was,” he says. Dr. Murphy recalled how going to his children’s sports activities and making personal time for each of them was one of the most enjoyable and happiest experiences he ever had.  When I asked him what he would pick as one favorite moment of his life, he responded after five seconds of silence and admitted, “I don’t know what to say”. Clearly, he had so many equally happy moments that picking one of them would be unfair to the others!

family 2

Any message you would want to deliver to the CMU-Q Community?

“Study something you are passionate about. Don’t do it because your parents want you to do it and things like that. Love other people and don’t think that you are more important than they are.”

any message to CMU

*All the photo credits goes to Syed Abbas Mehdi. 

Humans of CMUQ

Story: Bushra Memon

“This is as close to a rugby picture as I could find – it is a picture of me when I went to Australia for a rugby match in 1998.” – Professor Crista Crittenden, Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology

“The next day after my university’s rugby team lost the match at State Championships where I also sprained both my ankles, there was a special tradition at the school called “Party in the Park” where they had an all day concert at a local park.  So even though my ankles were killing me, I went.  It got very rowdy at this party, and at one point someone threw a glass bottle up in the air.  And of course out of the hundreds of people there, it came smashing down on my head. I was standing, talking to my boyfriend at the time and he said “Whoa, good thing you were standing there or it would have hit me!” and he walked away (he wasn’t my boyfriend for that much longer).  I noticed that blood was gushing out of my head, so I went over to an ambulance nearby. After they wrapped my head in gauze, I hung around to see the last group (A Tribe Called Quest) play, and I started noticing that people were pointing at me and generally looking horrified.  Apparently, the gauze wrapped around my head was completely covered with blood, and with my two sprained ankles causing me to limp horribly, I looked like one of the Zombies from The Walking Dead.  My friends finally took me to the hospital, where the doctors were more concerned about my ankles (now each the size of rugby balls!) then my head. By the time I left the emergency room, I was in a wheelchair and I had seven large staples in my head.  A week later I went home for the summer looking a little beat up, and my mom said “You are not going back to that school!” I actually agreed, and ended up transferring to the University of Rochester, where I started to become the genius professor that I am today!”

Erica MinKyung Kang Biological Sciences, Class of 2016

Erica MinKyung Kang Biological Sciences, Class of 2016

“When I was in school, a typical Korean girl, I realized that everyone around me who were getting A’s were not really motivated about life but rather were only studying in order to imitate or conform to the society. I did not want to do that, I did not want to follow the majority and have the same mentality. I was young and I wanted to challenge myself, so I decided to travel in order to change my life. The world is wide and big and there is so much to learn from it which I cannot do if I stay in my comfort zone. It was difficult to persuade my parents because I am their only daughter and Korea is still a conservative society. I was scared and nervous when I decided this but the moment my flight left from Korea, I was alright. My motivation really came from the belief I had in myself and in the positive energy of the universe. If you are motivated to do something challenging, you should know that it is the right thing to do. If you really want to do something and change your life, do not give up as it is always difficult to initiate. When you are motivated, there so many ways to solve the problems that arise. When we are young, we need to challenge ourselves because that will decide how we shape our lives. The way you think, the way you perceive, the way you feel is all up to you.”

Sixty Minutes with Osaama Shehzad: Professor Mark Stehlik

1All photo credit in this story goes to Syed Abbas Mehdi.

Mark Stehlik is a man of many words. From the journey of an attempted-killer to an attempted Ph.D. scholar, he battled against poverty, was saved by a dog, won hearts, transformed lives, and reached top the ladder of success in a truly exemplary and inspirational way for folks like us — who are only driven by our dreams.

“I tried to kill my brother.”

Some of you might be wondering why I referred to Mark as an attempted-killer. The story that I’m telling here might sound humorous, but the facts are not. I asked Mark earlier during the interview if he had done anything mischievous or embarrassing in his childhood. He couldn’t recall any. His innocent response was: I did normal childhood things. But then are always more things to casual answers. After a round of other questions, I paraphrased the question, and I finally got an answer. I was surprised as he shared the most terrifyingly naughty incident that could have ever happened in anyone’s childhood.

Mark’s younger brother, Paul, was only two years old when he became the target of an unintentionally naughty yet dangerous temptation that kicked in Mark’s mind. Baby Paul’s carriage was resting atop the declining driveway. Mark was tempted to push it so it could run against the winds. Assured that Paul was inside the carriage, Mark released the carriage’s brake, allowing it to slide and crash into the garage’s door.Miraculously, for both of them, Paul wasn’t in the carriage. “I am sure I thought he was in there, and if my brother was in it, he would have been pretty seriously injured,” commented Mark.

The crime was punishable for Mark. After the incident, he received a heavy beating from his mother, which is something I could infer when he said, “and boy, didn’t I get beaten for that one!” Mark added, “I remember the beating. I do not remember what I was thinking when I released the carriage brake.”

“You were pretty murderous.”  “Only once.”

“You were pretty murderous.”
“Only once.”

“It’s never so much about how much you spend; it’s all about the caring.”

Luxury either comes as a blessing with birth or as a product of hard work. For Mark, it was the latter.

Mark comes from a lower class family, but to his parents, it never was an obstacle to their children’s educational and physical nourishment. Mark’s father, Ladislav Stehlik, used to work three jobs to afford housing, his children’s education, and other expenses. To Mark, it was one of the reasons why he described his relationship with his father in childhood as not so close while he was a young child. It was only later that he realized there were financial circumstances that did not allow his father to be more around him. Learning from his father, Mark considers work as his top priority. He said, “I might not be devoted to my job had I not seen his example of devotion to his job and his family.”

But Mr. Ladislav’s busy routine didn’t deprive Mark from his father’s love. Mr. Ladislav found ways that were “within his economic means” to take his family out for entertainment: to places like Central Park Zoo, subway rides to New York, thanksgiving parades, or to sidewalks, simply to “watch things go by.”

Mark was brought up in an environment where happiness was not measured by price, and I think that growing up in this kind of love and care is a blessing.

Toys are one of the most desired items in childhood. They contribute to the developments in child’s creativity and they are a tangible form of entertainment. But if you’re guessing computers were Mark’s favorite toy, you’re very wrong.

Mark is a huge fan of model trains and he always wanted to have one. Unfortunately, his dad couldn’t afford it so he would buy him “small things” occasionally, but realistic Mark never felt disheartened. He remained optimistic and when he transitioned into an earning adult, a model train was one of the first things he bought for himself. Surely, Mark believes in the saying “it’s never too late.”
When Mark described how he always wanted a model train, I immediately began to think how children are sometimes tempted to steal items if their parents do not buy them what they want. So, I asked him if such temptations ever crossed his mind. He responded, “Oh no… I mean we saved if we needed to save then we got over not having things at least in that moment.”


“My brother and I were eating sort of something interesting for dinner and my parents were having kind of soup. That’s how close to the line we were economically.”


Mark’s mother, Miss Lillian Stehlik is a disciplinary lady who used to work as a secretary before she had children, and she returned to the job market only after Paul went to college. Surely, she sacrificed her job even in the restrictive financial conditions for the sake of her children’s emotional nourishment.

Back in Mark’s days, corporal punishment was a common parenting method intending to make children behave. Miss Lillian always kept a wooden stick hidden in her kitchen drawer but it had to be replaced often since it would be used on Mark or Paul. However, Mark had a guardian angel but not in the form of light as usually angels are. Mark’s family had a dog named “PS” whose ears were very sensitive to even most subdued of voices. Every time Miss Lillian would open the drawer to get the spoon out, PS (the dog) would hear it and run as fast as he could, jumping over the drawer to stop Miss Lillian from taking the spoon out. PS knew he wanted to save Mark or Paul, and Mark shared:
“If not for that dog, I don’t think I would have made it.”

Mark’s parents, Ladislav and Lillian Stehlik, on the day they were married (June 5, 1954) and on their 50th anniversary (June 5, 2004)

Mark’s parents, Ladislav and Lillian Stehlik, on the day they were married (June 5, 1954) and on their 50th anniversary (June 5, 2004)

“I met my wife over a pair of size 8 bowling shoes.”

We all know Mark’s famous sense of humor, which is something that he’d won the hearts of the freshmen with during orientation season. However, I wondered whether this was the reason he might have come off as a person with a charming and attractive personality in his old days. I proposed my wonderment as a question, and found out that my assumption was only partly true. He said, “I suppose that’s why my wife… mainly one of the many reasons my wife married me. But I was definitely a total wallflower when I was in elementary school and high school.”

Mark met his wife in a bowling alley, where he was working part-time. Every week, Mrs. Sylvia Stehlik, would come and the two would chat over the exchange of bowling shoes. Soon Mark began to fall for her and after weeks, he finally decided to give in to his feelings and ask her out. Obviously, Sylvia said ‘yes.’ On their first date, Mark and Sylvia fell for each other, and this marked the commencement of their long-term relationship.

Professor Mark while recalling his dad's reaction when he shared his feelings concerning Mrs. Stehlik with his father.

Professor Mark while recalling his dad’s reaction when he shared his feelings concerning Mrs. Stehlik with his father.

They started dating in 1976 but after three years, Mark broke up with Sylvia because he had to go to graduate school. Mark felt he was not ready to be a husband, a father, and a grad student all at the same time since Sylvia had a 5 year old boy, Damian, from a previous marriage. “You’re only supposed to have one big life change at a time. This would have been three: fatherhood, marriage, and grad student, all into one.”

From 1979 to 1981, Mark pursued his graduate school journey, and realized that he had made a mistake by breaking up with Sylvia. He wasn’t dating anyone else and he missed his former partner, so he decided to call her. Although Mark and Sylvia were living in different states at the time, he was fortunate enough to know that she wasn’t dating anyone either. They began talking to each other over phone as just friends, but it didn’t take long for them to be bound by the tie of marriage on June 5, 1982 – the same date Mark’s parents married. However, Mark admits that even though Sylvia still loves him a lot, the way she loved him before breakup changed after they got together again. So word of advice: if you really love someone, don’t let them go.


Mr. and Mrs. Stehlik in Iceland, 2014.

I asked Mark how he popped the question but, unfortunately, he couldn’t recall the exact words since it was a long time ago. I suggested he email his wife about it. He did, and got an instant response from her:

“You almost proposed to me on the phone but I stopped you. That was in August. I told you that I wanted a proposal in person and on one knee. When you visited in November, you did and your exact words were, “Will you spend the rest of your life with me?” I think I said yes. :-)”

“I always wanted to teach.”

Even though this article is not intended to reflect on Mark’s academic achievements, I believe that it’s essential to share his academic side since it completes his identity.

Since the very early age, Mark wanted to teach. It was his passion. All that was left was for him to decide which field he was going to teach in. Fortunately, fate sorted it all out when he won
a full scholarship from Pace University for his Bachelors degree. Although Mark enrolled in Math major, he discovered Computer Science to be more interesting, ending up as double majoring in Math and Computer Science.

To become a college teacher, Mark was told he had to have a Ph.D. , so he applied to Carnegie Mellon (along with three other schools). He was accepted to Carnegie Mellon, a decision that was met with utter surprise and happiness by Mark’s undergraduate advisor who said, “You got into Carnegie Mellon? You have to go there!”

So after completing his undergraduate degree at Pace, Mark enrolled in CMU’s Ph.D. Program, but after two years his heart wasn’t really into it. But fate did him a favor again by opening a vacant faculty position in the CS department. He seized the opportunity right on the spot by applying for it. In the beginning, he was offered a provisional faculty position, of which he taught a Programming class for the first time for non-CS majors. His performance made the department happy, as it was obvious for them that classrooms are where Mark’s heart belonged. Since then, Mark became a fulltime faculty member in 1981.

When the School of Computer Science at CMU opened in 1988, it needed someone to run it. Mark was interested in the role, and he was asked to take it. However, Mark confessed that he’d accept it if he would be still allowed to teach. He narrated the specific scenario to that moment:

DEAN OF CS DEPARTMENT: “So let me get this right. If we let you do more work, you will take this job?”
PROFESSOR MARK: “If you put it that way, yes. I just want to do what I like and I am good at.”

I asked Mark if teaching is his real passion, and why is he doing it a lot less now, he gave an interesting reply: “There are other teaching opportunities within this environment, in this office, outside this office… right… I think that is also present.”

During his 25 years of running the CS program at CMU, Mark discovered that teaching is not only limited to academics. It extends to advising, discussing and sharing all sorts of support to students, including emotional. This is one of the reasons why Mark describes he developed a very close relationship with many of his students during his career, and why he was actually asked by one of his students to be his best man on his wedding. It is 101% without doubt that Mark is not only very generous in spreading and receiving love, but he enjoys it. He explains how he sometimes feels jealous of Professor Oliver who gets to know the freshmen from teaching the calculus class. Mark says, “I actually feel a little jealous of Marion because he gets to see, virtually, every student coming through the door. I don’t anymore.”

Professor Mark as his student's best man at the wedding.

Professor Mark as his student’s best man at the wedding.

“I cried an awful lot when my dad died… I will cry now if I am not careful.”

As mentioned earlier, Mark and his father did not have a very close relationship in childhood and early adolescence. Mr. Ladislav was occupied by multiple jobs to keep his family financially sound. However, the dark clouds drifted away as Mark and Paul grew up, and Mr. Ladislav began to come more around the family when Mark’s son, Matthew, was born. This was the beginning of a very close father-son relationship, which formed over the years until Mr. Ladislav passed away in last April due to complications that arose during a heart surgery.

Mr. Ladislav’s demise was the saddest moment in Mark’s life. He was torn apart between his dad and students — the people he loved most. CMUQ’s first CS graduation was coming up and Mark had formed a very close relationship with his students. While he wanted to be in his home in the US with his family, his students desired for him to be with them on their great day. It was a very hard decision for him to make, but he made the right choice when Dean Baybars put him on a flight to the US since family comes first. Even though Mark wasn’t there for his students at their graduation, he received loads of letters and condolences from Qatar, which helped him cope with the saddest tragedy he’s ever experienced.

"If anything, I would have loved to see him one last time... you don’t get to make that choice either... we managed to say ‘I love you’ and all those other things over the course of many conversations, sometimes explicitly, sometimes not... There wasn’t much left to say other than goodbye. So what I would wish for you and for anyone is that you have... you ultimately over the lifetime come to a place where you have said all the things needed to be said and you have had all the good experiences you needed to have and so you can separate your hurt, and not feel like I needed to do. What I would have liked to do is very different than I needed to do."

“If anything, I would have loved to see him one last time… you don’t get to make that choice either… we managed to say ‘I love you’ and all those other things over the course of many conversations, sometimes explicitly, sometimes not… There wasn’t much left to say other than goodbye. So what I would wish for you and for anyone is that you have… you ultimately over the lifetime come to a place where you have said all the things needed to be said and you have had all the good experiences you needed to have and so you can separate your hurt, and not feel like I needed to do. What I would have liked to do is very different than I needed to do.”

“If I could relive those three weeks… we didn’t have to do anything… just three weeks.”
Life is full of mysteries, surprises, and tragedies. There are some things we hope we never came across, while other things are what we would want to relive again. But we are not the one to make this choice. When I asked Mark about his happiest moment in life, he couldn’t answer it. I rephrased the question as “any moment you would want to live again” and what followed next was a three-second silence —literally!
There’s no doubt that Mark has always been a busy man. But work never stopped him from making time for his kids. Mark has two sons (one is adopted) and a daughter: Damian (40), Matthew (30), and Kristin (26) who is also a mother. Mark is also a grandfather of a very cute baby, Gabriel, who was born about a year and a half ago. When I told him he’s lucky to have such a huge family, he said “it is I who am lucky to have them.”
The Stehlik Family.

The Stehlik Family.

So coming back to the happiest moment, when Matthew and Kristin were 16 and 14, Mark took them to a cross-country road trip for three weeks in summer. Mrs. Stehlik was also supposed to go with them but work called her back, which turned out pretty well for Mark because he got the whole three weeks with his kids to himself.

When Mark’s friends heard about the cross-country trip, they said, “you’re going to walk yourself into a car with two teens for three weeks? None of you are going to survive!” Fortunately, the trip didn’t turn out to be scary or worrisome, but a memorable experience for father and kids.

One of the incidents that Mark described from the trip was a sibling fight. Mark was driving the kids while constantly listening to Matthew and Kristin’s screaming and yelling at each other. Hoping that they might calm down, Mark kept controlling his temper but the wait seemed to be eternal. So he finally gave up, screaming at the top of his lungs: “Stop! Stop the stupid stuff!” Mark rarely used to yell at his kids. Unable to believe what happened, Matthew and Kristin suddenly became silent, trying their best to not let their laughter burst out. Pretty soon, they cracked up, laughing really hard after witnessing that funny Mark can actually yell.

Professor Mark with his son, daughter, and wife.

Professor Mark with his son, daughter, and wife.

Through Professor Mark’s insightful stories, I hope we all can learn the values of family, relationships, and work from his life. At the end of the interview, I asked him to share any thoughts and messages he might have for the students. He said, “Caring about people is important. People are number one. Whether they’re family, or they’re the people you work with, or the people you teach, or your peers.”

Sixty Minutes with Osaama Shehzad: Professor Marion Oliver

Oliver 1

Who is Marion Leon Oliver? 

Marion Oliver is one of the prodigious professors at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, and a tartan who earned his Ph.D. in 1971. But what roles does Dr. Oliver have as a son, a husband, a student, and a father? What does he love to do and what does he regret? What makes him unique? To know him beyond his aca­demic personality, Let’s walk through the exceptionally wonderful seventy-one years of his life.

“I am a product of a single mom raising me.”
With nothing but gratitude, Dr. Oliver appreciates the strict environment he was raised in by his mother only (since his parents did not get along). Upon asking if he misses his fa­ther or not, he said that “there was no bond established that would cause me to miss him” and that “I have got my mother, that’s all I need to know.”
One thing I am sure Oliver’s mother would be proud of is Oliver himself. Growing up in a divorce environment can lead to many negative changes in a child’s personality. But Oliver’s mother, Queen Elizabeth Oliver (yes, her name was as royal as her personality!) did an outstanding job in raising him into the respected and educated personality he is today.
In the strict environment he was raised in, Oliver did have mischievous childhood temptations that he satisfied when his mother was not around — temptations that got him penalized when caught. Here’s an incident that cost him a permanent injury in his left arm.

“I was probably naughty within bounds.” 

Reflecting back on our childhood, we all laugh at the embarrassing and stupid things we did, but who knew that Dr. Oliver, in his childhood, would break his arm while remaining “naughty within bounds.”

Dr. Oliver’s mother ─may she rest in peace─ had bought a new bed mattress, not knowing that it would become a victim of Oliver’s most embarrassing childhood moment of life. As amazed the young Oliver was by the new mattress, his childhood temptations kicked in, and he started going all superman on the bed. He would climb the back of his big brother and jump from there on the mattress to feel the incomparable pleasures of free fall. Even though it was risky and his mother warned him not to do it, Oliver attempted to pull out the fancy James Bond stunt again, but this time fate did not accompany him. He lost his balance while climbing his brother’s back and fell behind, breaking his arm into half. Yes, half, and it hurt a lot!

As soon as Oliver landed the floor, his inner Superman and James Bond self deserted him, and he started crying out loud in pain. Hearing the cries of young and naughty Oliver, his mother rushed to him, founding him on the floor in crucial pain. Watching his mother witnessing him in torment, poor Oliver was expecting sympathy and love, but all he got was a “shut up” full of rage and frustration. Surely, Ms. Queen was raged that Oliver did not follow her orders, but obviously her love for him did not deny him the assistance from hospital.

Oliver went to the hospital but the doctors, who were “white folks” and those were the days of racism, did not consider his broken arm worth their precious time, so they fixed it hastily and incompletely. Even to this day, Oliver cannot rotate his left arm around completely. However, that doesn’t stop him from pulling dents at 4:00 am in the morning even today at the age of 71.

So, now even though we don’t know much about Dr. Oliver, we can safely assume that he would never jump on a comfy spring mattress when he sees one after a long, tiring day. Also, there is a lesson to be learned: always obey your mother if you’re wise enough to not go looking for trouble.

Oliver 2

Professor Oliver showing defect in his left arm while sharing his most embarrassing moment [Credits: Syed Abbas Mehdi]

“She paid for me to take the test.” 

We all have our favorite high school teachers who we wished would be guiding us through challenging phases of life, but not all of us are lucky enough to remain in contact with them after college life grab a hold on us. However, on asking Dr. Oliver what’s the happiest memory of his life, he shared one of his favorite high school mentor, Lydia McKeldin, who’s “ninety years old now and still kicking, and she’s a fifty years survivor of breast cancer.” Surely, that should be a Guinness record of how weak cancer is when combating Dr. Oliver’s favorite mentor.

During his high school days, Oliver did not believe in himself and was unaware of academic talents he was blessed with. Fortunately, Ms. McKeldin recognized those talents in him and strived to bring them out by making him take an advanced placement test, so Oliver could become a man he is today.

This test was a sponsored program by Oliver’s favorite college which would offer early admission if the test was cleared successfully. Not only Oliver had no plans to register for it, he lacked dough to do so. However, Ms. McKeldin, who believed in Oliver’s ingenious brain, paid for the test and made him take it when he was in 10th grade.

Unaware of how his potential could be compared to other folks who were taking the test, Oliver was not really optimistic. However, he boldly went for it and to his surprise, not only he passed the test, he was offered early admission to his desired college in 10th grade.

Surprised at his own potential but realistic at the very moment, Oliver knew that he had no money to attend college two years earlier. Anxious and confused, he went to his teacher and explained this to her, and what she said displayed was one of the wisest moves a teacher could have made to prepare her student for his outstanding yet challenging future.

Ms. McKeldin told Oliver that she did not pay for the test so he could graduate earlier but it was to make him witness his own extraordinary talent, so he could start preparing himself for college. Had she not believed in him, Oliver would have never been aware of his talents and would have never reached the top of the ladder.

Following the test, Oliver began working in evenings at a clothing store for two years along with his high school to prepare himself financially for college. However, fate had not stopped favoring him yet.

After the freshman year of college, Oliver got help from Russians to pave his way, financially, through the upcoming years of college. Seeking help from Russians may kick in the common Russians-are-gangsters stereotype in your mind, but let’s be real. Oliver is cool not fool.

Coming back to how Oliver made it through college, financially, who knew that Russian’s launch of spacecraft, Sputnik, in 1957 would be beneficial to Oliver’s forthcoming success. Worried that US did not reach in space first, the US government initiated a loan program that would loan money to every college student who was studying science ─ the very field Oliver was majoring in college. So for his sophomore, junior, and senior year, Oliver got a $3000 loan (it was a LOT in 1960’s) to become a prodigy. Surely, Oliver is not only his teacher’s but fate’s favorite too.

Oliver 3

Professor Oliver sharing his experiences during interview [Credits: Syed Abbas Mehdi]

“The sole purpose of this visit was to ask her mother if I could marry.” 

If you’re having a hard time looking for an example of a real life till-death-do-us-part love story, you have to stop by Office 1175 at Carnegie Mellon Qatar.

Marion and Connie Oliver are an unparalleled example of an unbelievably successful marriage that lasted 43 years until Mrs. Connie met her demise in 2008 due to pancreatic cancer (may she rest in peace).

Oliver first met Connie in his freshman year of college, and this is when their spark of love (which is still glowing) lit the lantern of their romantic life.  In fact, it was only a month after graduation that they married, securing their love forever.

So how did the mighty Oliver pop the question? If he bending down on his knees with a ring in hand is the first thought that strikes your mind then you’re absolutely wrong in comprehending what kind of man Oliver is. Sure that way of proposal is romantic but it’s not outstanding. Oliver always love to be a bold, classy gentleman; hence, like one, he went to Connie’s hometown, in his junior year, for the weekend with the sole purpose of asking for Connie’s hand from her mother. What a daring mission he went off to!

When Oliver arrived, he stayed at Connie’s neighbors so he could only see Connie during day, and the days passed quickly. It was the last day and Oliver had to leave at 2 ‘o’ clock.  1 ‘o’ clock had already kicked but Oliver was still gathering the audacity to ask the most important question of his life.  Frustrated by waiting, Connie also began kicking Oliver, and eventually the following words came out of his mouth in front of Connie’s mother: I have nothing to offer. I am in a school, a normal graduate. All I have to offer your daughter is my love, and I would appreciate it if you would let me marry her. Notice that Oliver did not speak any romantic words; he remained realistic and direct, and that surely earned him a yes from his mother-in-law.

After graduating on 7th June’65 from Fisk University, Oliver and Connie married joyously a month later on 17th July, remaining happily married ever after. Even upon asking who he misses most every day, Oliver replied I miss my wife more than I can describe. Then he told us (and also showed some) about the numerous collages he has made and the relishing memories he has in his head, which he look at and recall when he misses his wife. Truly, Oliver is man of character, man of faith, man of heart.

In these 43 years of wonderful marriage, Oliver and Connie adopted a four week old, beautiful baby girl, Ramona Oliver. Moreover, when he mentioned about adopting his angelic daughter, Oliver said it was “the best decision we ever made.” Once again, it has been proved that when it comes to spreading and sharing love, Oliver’s generosity is unparalleled.

Ramona is now 45, works in Washington, and lives with her three and a half year old son (yes, Oliver is also a grandfather), both of whom Oliver occasionally skypes with and meets twice a year during spring and summer break. On asking why he doesn’t Skype more often, Oliver said that he doesn’t like Skype since it’s not like a phone call where he can walk and talk concurrently.

Professor Oliver with his beautiful wife, Mrs. Connie Oliver, and daughter Ramona Oliver [Credits: Syed Abbas Mehdi]

Professor Oliver with his beautiful wife, Mrs. Connie Oliver, and daughter Ramona Oliver [Credits: Syed Abbas Mehdi]

In 2010, Oliver married again to a woman referred by his classmate but, unfortunately, it’s not working out, so they are going to proceed with divorce. On asking why the marriage failed to work, Oliver said that his second wife feels that he did not let go of his former wife, which he admits, claiming that how do you not love a person you lived with for 47 years.

 “If I had been running, it would have scared him away.” 

Let’s clear out the myth that Oliver runs around the campus at 4 in the morning. True that he comes very early and he’s an exercise lover, it doesn’t mean that he loves to run. Moreover, the claims he made in the favor of walking actually make me reconsider my decision to run too.

Oliver believes that when you run, you fail to observe and appreciate the beauty of nature around you. Back in United States, he used to observe greenery, trees, plants, deer, alligators in ponds (yes, he used to walk by wild ponds), and other animals on his every morning walk, and this is what he misses a lot in Qatar.

Oliver’s most excitingly thoughtful, morning-walk observance, which I believe is most worthy of sharing, is that of an owl feeding on its prey. Once walking in the morning, Oliver observed an owl beside a tree which was feeding on its prey. Oliver stopped and looked at it him; the owl glanced back, and then continued eating its breakfast. At that time, Oliver realized that had he been running, he would have scared away the owl, making himself responsible for        its unsatisfied hunger. Inarguably, Oliver’s love and appreciation extends not to just his family or students, but towards animals and plants too. In fact, Oliver is a huge gardening fan. His garden is one of the top things he misses most about US. If you ever get chance, must stop by his office to witness the lush, green, and strikingly natural décor of his office.

Yes, that’s one of Professor Oliver’s beautiful houses in United States [Credits: Syed Abbas Mehdi]

Yes, that’s one of Professor Oliver’s beautiful houses in United States [Credits: Syed Abbas Mehdi]

 “If I could go back and undo it, I definitely would.” 

Let’s accept the fact: we are never perfect. All of us make mistakes no matter how pure our soul is. You made mistake, I make mistakes, and so did Professor Oliver. Yes, he has made a mistake which he regrets even to this day. I know you must be thinking of all sorts of crimes and brutal mastermind stuff which Oliver might have executed and now regrets, but I ask you to hold on to your imagination because you are never going to guess what is it that Oliver could have possibly  done to be haunted by it until this day.

On your mark… get set… go! Oliver accused someone wrongly of stealing a teacher’s purse in elementary school. Yes, you’re thinking right; it’s the elementary school, which means Oliver regrets something he did when he was just a child, in 3rd grade, about more than sixty years ago (that’s even before your parents were born).

So what really happened? That’s something you would have to go and ask him in office…. I am just kidding. He boldly shared the whole story with us.

There was a guy in Oliver’s school who stole the teacher’s purse and Oliver saw him with it in the washroom. When he returned to the class, the teachers asked if anyone had seen the purse. Since Oliver had already seen the guy who stole it in the washroom, he stepped out and told the teachers what he saw. The teachers then took him to every classroom, asking him to point out that boy who stole the purse. Upon entering the classroom, where that boy was, Oliver became reluctant to identify him since that boy passed him a threatening look. Afraid that the boy would seek his vengeance by “beating a pulp out of him,” Oliver pointed at another innocent student, and the teachers punished him instead of the real stealer.

While sharing this incident, Oliver also said that even though blaming the wrong person did not affect that person’s career, he would still do anything to make amends or undo it if he will ever be given a chance. It’s amazing that how some deeds, which are done even at such young age, continue to haunt us for the rest of our life. So, the moral we should all be learning here is never to be unfair to anyone. It can haunt us forever no matter how trivial it is.

“I am here by choice.” 

Walking through the thrillingly insightful journey of Oliver from an adventuring baby to a brilliant Ph.D. scholar is an outstanding and preciously meaningful guidance for all those who want to understand life.

Many of us guess that why Oliver has chosen to live in Qatar when he can live in US instead with his family. Some of us may think that Oliver is alone in Qatar, but allow me to warn those who think that’s the case.

Upon asking Oliver what message he would want to be conveyed, he said “I am here by choice,” meaning that Oliver has chosen Qatar because he likes it, not because he likes to be alone. Prior to joining the faculty of CMU-Q in 2004, Oliver had been working with Mobil Oil Corporation for 10 years. Part of his job description included the position of Manager of Training in Middle East, meaning that he has been working and living in Middle East long before he joined CMU-Q. When Carnegie opened its campus in Qatar in 2004, Oliver gladly offered to provide any assistance required from him; hence, he was offered the position of teaching professor. However, don’t let his preference of Qatar make you assume that Oliver has separated himself from his family. Every year, twice, during spring and summer vacations, Oliver flies back to his family in US and spends one fourth of a year there. Surely, Oliver’s living a gifted life, masterfully balanced between work and family. He is a man who knows how to spread love, education, guidance; he knows how to live life. Not only we are gifted to have him, this is what that separates Carnegie from any other college, making it unique. It is doubtlessly inarguable that people like him are hard to come by and this is what that makes us fortunate.

Once again, I would like to thanks Dr. Oliver for affording me the courtesy of spending 60 minutes with him to get to know more about the value of life from his precious stories. Surely, he has countless more and if you want to know them, just stop by at his office and have a memorable chat!

P.S. Special thanks to Syed Abbas Mehdi for taking out his time and offering his brilliant photography skills for this interview. 

Humans of CMUQ

Story: Ashwini Kamath, Photography: Fatma Tlili

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 3.58.35 PM

Zan Naeem
Computer Science, Class of 2018

“On the first day I came to CMU, I thought I was going to meet a bunch of nerds. And I was right, but they were cool nerds, and that’s really what matters. Everybody is kind to each other, everybody treats each other with respect, and that’s what I was seeking in a community. I didn’t want to be in a community that was one extreme or the other extreme. They’re all in the middle, and they’re all intelligent people. I’m glad to be a Tartan. Zan, the Tartan,” he recalled.

Muna Al-Husseiny, Co-president of the Big Movement Club Business Administration, Class of 2016

Muna Al-Husseiny, Co-President of The Big Movement
Business Administration, Class of 2016

“The inspiration came from the amount of stress we saw people exhibiting throughout the semester. People are very fast paced, and they get a lot of stress because they’re worried about the grade they’ll get. We just want to tell people that it’s okay to stop, take a break, have pancakes, eat some comfort food, and it is okay to relax and unwind.” [On Crunch Time Lunch]