Florida Tech can thank Mother Nature for Ameerah Alsulami.
A native of Saudi Arabia, Alsulami ’20 MS first came to the United States (along with her brother) in late 2018 to join her sister at DePaul University in Chicago. Not a fan of winter, she found herself in a place known for its ferocious and freezing weather. That wouldn’t do.
When her sister enrolled at Florida State for her Ph.D. in computer science (the major of choice for all three siblings), Alsulami figured Florida weather would be more akin to her home country’s. But Tallahassee still boasted some cooler temperatures, she was told, so best to look south.
“One friend advised me to go to Florida Tech in Melbourne, saying it’s a great city, nice university, people are so kind, there’s a beach – and winters are nice,” she said. So she came to check it out and ended up moving to Melbourne to attend Florida Tech.
“This is one of great decisions I have made in my whole life,” she said.
The Saudi students at Florida Tech, and many people across her home country, would certainly agree.
Last year, Alsulami was elected president of Florida Tech’s Saudi Student Union, and all she has done since then is help reshape the group into a tech savvy, primary resource for students from the Kingdom.
All of this even as she excels elsewhere: earning her Ph.D. in computer science, serving as vice president of the Florida Tech chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, winning honors such as Outstanding Graduate at the 2023 Honors Convocation and presenting her poster highlighting her published paper on cyber security at the prestigious Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society (FLAIRS) conference.
As she assumed the presidency of the student union, she looked at her own experiences, such as when she went through orientation in 2019. She remembers the challenges of navigating the language and concerns about the information she was supposed to be receiving.
“When I became president of the club, I thought, ‘What can I do to help these students when they first arrive?’”
Start with providing them orientation materials in Arabic. Then go ahead and create a calendar, also in Arabic, that merges university events like Founder’s Day with standout happenings of interest to Saudi students such as the start of Ramadan.
Then build on that by making and curating videos and other content highlighting the Saudi Student Union at Florida Tech.
“It is good to do other achievements, not just academic, to support our community in the university, especially the Saudi Student Union,” she said.
Those other achievements have gotten Alsulami major attention in Saudi Arabia, where her videos showcasing Saudi culture have garnered hundreds of thousands of views on TikTok, Twitter and other social media platforms, including a “like” from Saudi Ambassador to the United States Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, and she has been interviewed on national news broadcasts and featured in newspapers.
“I felt so weird in the beginning. I was afraid a little bit,” she said of the live TV interviews. “The first time, the whole country just to watch you – so weird! You are praying not to do anything wrong.”
Needless to say, the interviews were a success, and when Alsulami eventually returns to her job as a computer science lecturer at King Khalid University, she will do so as a beacon of Saudi pride and the power of education.
Her motivation for success, wherever she is and whatever she is doing? Doubt from others.
“Sometimes some people say, ‘You can’t do it.’ But that made me want to do it,” she said, smiling. “I have people say computer science is so difficult, you can’t do it. That made me so motivated to prove I can do it. Prove to the whole world I can do it. Nothing prevents people from doing something they love.”