Growing up, Sarah Hakam knew she wanted to go to medical school, but she also knew that she didn't want to go via the conventional route, by pursuing a biology or chemistry major.
“I wanted more out of my undergraduate education,” she said. “I wanted to develop a lot of my life skills, like problem-solving. I decided engineering would really allow me to mature my brain.”
She was also influenced by her father, Hassan Hakam, who earned his master's degree in Computer Science from the Cullen College of Engineering.
"My dad majored in computer science and my mom majored in biochemistry. By majoring in biomedical engineering myself, I felt like it was the perfect combination of the two," she said. "My parents have both always encouraged me to follow my goals and are so proud of me. I could not have done it without them."
Hakam has followed her father's path to UH. She has flourished as a Biomedical Engineering student, and as a result, has earned the college's Outstanding Senior award for the 2022-23 academic year. It came as a surprise to her – and members of her household.
“At first I was confused because I wasn't sure what was going on, but then I was really excited,” she said of being notified about winning the award. “The first thing I did was run downstairs and tell my parents, we were all so happy and I could not believe it.”
Sarah lives in Sugarland with her family – her father, Hassan Hakam, mother, Rana El-Hakam, and three younger brothers, Anwar, Ahmad, and Mohammad. Anwar is also a Biomedical Engineering student at the Cullen College of Engineering, a sophomore.
Before she enrolled, Hakam identified her A.P. Physics teacher Brit Britton and A.P. English teacher Melodi Dixon Wyatt at Stephen F. Austin High School as significant educational influences for her.
“They were always encouraging me to go out and pursue every little thing, I really miss them sometimes,” she said.
Once she got to the Cullen College of Engineering, that effort and spirit persisted. Several faculty members also encouraged her to pursue an aggressive course load and advanced courses at the Honors College.
Hakam said, “Dr. Fritz Claydon really gave me so many opportunities. He helped me through a lot of things and honestly, I don't think I could have done my undergraduate work without him. He was amazing.
Hakam also praised the guidance she got from Gregory Spillers, the former director of the Pre-Health Advising Center and a former Biomedical Engineering advisor as well.
“He's an amazing man and so good at what he does,” Hakam said. “From freshman year, when I told him what I wanted to do, to go to medical school, he laid out the entire plan for me and told me everything I need to do.”
Spillers served as the faculty advisor for the student group that Hakam started at UH, the Engineering Pre-Medical Society – Epsilon Omega Pi.
“I remember when I came in as a freshman, there was like a considerable amount of engineering students who were pursuing pre-med, but by senior year I feel like a lot of them had fizzled out,” she said. “I wanted to create a society where a bunch of engineering students can have other pre-meds to talk to and be able to transition better into medicine from engineering.”
After earning her degree at UH, Hakam will be continuing her studies at Texas A&M College of Medicine. She has been accepted into a dual degree program there, to pursue her medical doctorate and a Master's in Interdisciplinary Engineering at the same time.
“I'll be studying in the Texas Medical Center,” she said. “I think we're going to do our rotations at Houston Methodist Hospital, which I'm really excited about because I've always wanted to stay in Houston, close to all my family and friends and I get to study in the biggest medical center in the world.”
Ideally, she would like to stay in the area once she enters the professional world, but beyond wanting to be a surgeon, her goals are ever-changing, she said.
“I like taking things one day at a time. Seeing what interests me, and making up new goals as my interests change and as my life changes. As things change, you never know what may come next.”