Ph.D international student Ahmed Yousaf joined ASU’s Prison Biology Education Program where students travel to Eyman Prison’s Browning Unit, a level-five security prison, to teach biology classes to inmates.
In fall 2014, Yousaf ventured out of Lahore, Pakistan for the first time to come to ASU and continue his chemistry education.
In Pakistan, Yousaf found a passion for chemistry when he started the Chemistry Outreach Program at his local university. Yousaf’s goal was to reach out to students, teachers and the rest of the public and share his love for science.
“We had this idea that we would start reaching out to people and show them that chemistry can be fun,” Yousaf said. “We hosted a science fair at our university, invited a bunch of kids over and it went pretty great; so then we decided to take it further.”
The program collaborated with a local teacher training institute where teachers from rural areas of Pakistan came and learned new and innovative ways to teach their students chemistry. When Yousaf left Pakistan behind, he also left his outreach program, creating a void that needed to be filled.Teaching biology to inmates is proving to be just as rewarding for him. Students in the program meet for weekly meetings on campus, and Yousaf has visited the prison this semester for orientation.
“It was an interesting experience I would say,” Yousaf said. “They put us in a classroom where they talked about safety and were basically trying to make us feel like it was a regular job. When we actually went into the prison, where we were supposed to get fingerprinted, is when we got to see the inmates for the first time.”
Students co-teach their classes, and a guard is present at all times for student safety. The inmate’s feet are also shackled to the desks for the duration of the class, since it is a Supermax prison.
Yousaf believes that the program he is a part of will impact the prisoners positively, preparing them for life after prison.
“These programs have advantages,” Yousaf said. “The short-time advantage meaning that it reduces the in-prison violence. It’s a Supermax prison, so they’re usually kept in their own cells, so it is a way for them to get out and interact with other people. I think it’s going to be pretty rewarding and I’m very excited about it.”
A graduate of ASU’s biomedical engineering program, Saba Safdar, got to know Yousaf over the past couple years and trusts his capability to teach science.
“He lives and breathes chemistry; he is overwhelmingly passionate about his work, and he could eat your ear off talking about a super cool new gadget,” Safdar said. “His personality can be infectious, and he injects his cheery demeanor in everything he does."
Yousaf also serves as vice president of ASU’s Pakistani Student Association. The non-profit organization provides Pakistani students with networking and community involvement opportunities, while also teaching them a variety of skills to help them integrate into life at ASU.
Business analytics graduate student, Sahil Mohanani witnesses all the time and effort Yousaf puts into the organization firsthand by organizing events, applying for grants and creating a sense of community within the group.
“(He) is a valuable asset to the crew of the association,” Mohanani said. “He recently organized an Eid celebration to bring his friends from Pakistan together and did a great job of hosting everybody.”
Apart from the organization, Mohanani has also gotten to know Yousaf on a more personal level.
“Ahmed loves playing ping pong in his spare time, he cooks amazing baked pasta and a mean biryani when he's feeling adventurous,” Mohanani said. “10/10 would recommend to be friends with him.”
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