MSE Undergraduate Student Profile: Karam Hijji

karam hijji
Karam Hijji (B.S. '10)

Karam is a great example of someone who has taken advantage of the research opportunities available to undergraduates majoring in materials science and engineering. He has worked with atomic force microscopy in Assistant Professor Joonil Seog's Molecular Mechanics Laboratory and with bioadhesives at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (now the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research), which resulted in his co-authoring a paper titled "Biomimetic sealant based on gelatin and microbial transglutaminase: An initial in vivo investigation." In the summer of 2009 he worked at NIST on quantitative biofunctionalization of gold nanoparticles.

"I found that materials science and engineering was perfect because it gave me the flexibility of specializing in any field that I wanted to....The major is tailored to my shifting interests."

Materials Science and Engineering Undergraduate Student Karam Hijji

When he's not in class or the lab, Karam participates in the Muslim Student Organization and Community Roots. He enjoys photography and reading about anything related to politics or religion. He is also a member of Alpha Sigma Mu, a professional honor society for Materials Science and Engineering.

We chatted with Karam to learn more about his experiences in the undergraduate program in materials science and engineering, and to find out why he chose the University of Maryland for his studies.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Maryland?

Originally I wanted to attend a university that was in a more rural area, but after visiting Maryland, I decided that something closer to the city would be more exciting and much more beneficial to my future. I [also] found that Maryland has so many great resources on campus that give every student the opportunity to test the waters and find out what they really enjoy.

One of the biggest things that attracted me was the sense of pride the students had when I initially visited, and I knew that I wanted something like that. Now, whenever I am cheering at a football game or just walking around on Maryland Day, I feel a strong sense of attachment to the school.

Why did you decide to major in Materials Science and Engineering?

I came into the university as a biology major, but realized I wanted a more applied major. I had been living around engineers my first year here, and really enjoyed the material that they were studying, so I decided to research the [A. James Clark School of Engineering]. I found that it was rated in the top 20 in the country, and this compelled me to take the opportunity to study there. I found that materials science and engineering was perfect because it gave me the flexibility of specializing in any field that I wanted to. I could have done something electrical, or focused more on a more biological aspect to the material engineering field. The major is tailored to my shifting interests. I feel [majoring in MSE] is the best choice I have made while attending the University of Maryland.

What's been the best thing about your academic experience here so far?

I feel the opportunities that I have been given have been the best thing about my academic experience so far. There were a number of courses that I felt I would enjoy and handpicked for myself—this freedom has been a very positive experience. I also love the size of the classes in the department. Since there are not as many students in my classes as there might be in other departments, I find that it is easier to get to know the professors and make a personal connection with them, and to get the attention and help I need when I am struggling. I have also developed good relationships with most of the students in our department. We have formed study groups that help make it easier to learn the material.

What has been your favorite class, and why?

My favorite class so far has been Microprocessing [ENMA 465] because it gave me a glimpse into the manufacturing and processing of electronics and biomaterials. It is a challenging course but at the same time is very direct and easy to understand if some work is put into it. I also had the chance to do some hands-on work and create microdevices in the FabLab, which is a rare opportunity for undergraduates to get in a course.

What's the hardest engineering class you had to take? Do you have any suggestions for other students about how to survive it?

I would say the hardest course I have taken so far would have to be Physics of Solid Materials [ENMA 460]. The material was just so different and new, and like nothing I had encountered before, which made it difficult. I would suggest that whoever is taking the course make some friends in the class with whom you can study. Also try to utilize all the resources out there, including your professor. Both professors who teach the course, Dr. [Ichiro] Takeuchi and Dr. [John] Cumings, are very good and friendly. They are always willing to answer questions and help anyone in need.

Really, this advice is not only good for this course, but for all of the courses that you take while you are at the university.

What’s been the best thing about living in the Washington, D.C. area?

I am very lucky that I do not have to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to see one of the most famous cities in the world. Being a Metro [subway] ride away from D.C. gives me the opportunity to visit our nation's capital and see all the good things it has to offer.

I have personally enjoyed the museums and myriad of restaurants. There are also tons of concerts, clubs, and museum exhibits you can go to. It's really nice being able to go out with friends on the weekend and see something new and exclusive to D.C., and then grabbing a bite to eat. There is so much going on in the city that if you ever end up being bored on campus, you can just hop on the Metro and go.

What do you recommend undergraduates do or get involved in to have the best experience here?

I recommend finding groups that interest you and joining them when you get to campus. This will help you make friends who share similar values, yet at the same time have had different experiences. It is nice having such a rich diversity [of people and activities] on campus, because it has helped me grow and see the world in a different light. I would also suggest making full use of the resources available here, such as research opportunities. All of these things will help you enjoy your time on campus, and make you more prepared for when you graduate.

What would you like to do after graduating?

There are several things that I think may be interesting. They include joining the Peace Corps for a couple of years, going straight to working in industry, or going to graduate school to do something in the bioengineering field. So many pathways have been opened up to me as a result of majoring in materials science and engineering, so hopefully I'll decide what I want to do in the next year before I graduate!

Karam Hijji received his B.S. in May 2010. He currently works at the U.S. Patent Office.