For CU Denver graduate Dania Maaliki, being a Lynx runs in the family.
Her two older sisters graduated from CU Denver and her younger brother is a current student. Her parents are no strangers to the Auraria campus either—they met while attending the neighboring Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU). Immigrants from Palestine and Lebanon, they instilled in Maaliki the value of a college degree.
Now, as she looks ahead to Fall 2022 Commencement on Dec. 17, where she will graduate with a biology major, psychology minor, and a biochemistry certificate, she’s proud of her academic achievements and excited to continue her education in hopes of becoming a doctor.
Caring for Community
Maaliki grew up south of Denver in Castle Rock. When she was in middle school, she decided she wanted to go into medicine part because of her family’s focus on community care. For example, when her mom had surgery in November, she recalled, at least 20 people called to check in. If a neighbor or stranger ever needed help, her parents would drop everything to lend a hand. “The Middle East is very communal; you take care of each other,” Maaliki said. “Growing up around that, it left a good mark in my mind….I have always wanted to take care of my community.”
She did just that through volunteering. Since high school, she’s devoted time to various health organizations, including 2nd Home Community, where she helped elderly Middle Eastern communities, and the American Heart Association, where she mentored high school girls who were interested in STEM careers. During her senior year of high school, she was nominated to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Student of the Year” Campaign, which raised more than $310,000 for cancer cure research. At the time, her family friend was battling multiple myeloma, which motivated her to raise more than $30,000 on her own for the campaign. She later joined the campaign’s leadership committee to help other students raise funds for cancer research. “It fills my heart to serve communities and people that need help most,” Maaliki said.
Thanks to her parents’ guidance, college was always in her future. And when it came to choosing the right one, she knew from her loved ones’ experiences that CU Denver would be a good fit. Her oldest sister graduated in 2012 with a philosophy degree and her middle sister graduated in 2015 with a business degree. Plus, by attending CU Denver, she could live at home, save money, and commute to campus.
Finding a Sense of Belonging at CU Denver
Maaliki submitted her application to CU Denver on Colorado’s Free Application Days, which meant her application fee was waived. In her first year, she bonded with other students in her major and those who also lived off campus. She joined the executive team for the Middle Eastern Student Association. “Coming to this campus, I knew it would be more diverse than where I went to high school,” Maaliki said. “I met people from all different walks of life, which I think has been a good influence and foundation for me and my future.”
Her advisor Kenneth English, who helped her prepare for a pre-med track, and one of her professors, Lisa Johansen, Senior Instructor and Undergraduate Internship Coordinator, were highlights of her first year at CU Denver. Johansen made an effort to get to know Maaliki and helped her land an internship at the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she assisted with fundraising programs and analyzed research on cancer mutations in children.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced campus to move to remote operations, Maaliki’s change in routine was a shock, she said. Working from home and isolated from the outside world and her classmates, while also grieving the loss of a loved one, was mentally challenging. She started therapy, developed an exercise routine, and focused more on her self-care. “When you’re put in a space when you have to be with yourself, you have to learn to grow and change,” she said. “I tried to really recognize what I needed for myself.”
Following graduation, Maaliki will prepare for her next phase of education. She’s applied to 25 medical schools and will likely pick where she’s going in summer 2023. And while she’s debating between surgery or general practice, one thing is certain: “A big part of why I’m going into medicine is because I want to serve different communities who are underserved,” she said.
As she reflects on her time at CU Denver, she’s grateful for the opportunity to earn a college degree. “I know that not all immigrants get the chance to graduate from college,” she said. “I want to continue the legacy of my parents, and someday I want my children to go to college.”