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Faris Shaheen, Talks Finding a Home at NOVA to Explore Academic Success

NOVA Student Loves Computers, But Not Sure He Wants His Passion To Be His Career

Faris Shaheen was still deciding what he wanted to study when he started at NOVA. He absolutely loves anything to do with computers, but he’s afraid if he has a career in computers that, between his passion and his career, he’ll eventually get sick of it and even get nauseous just at the sight of a computer.

For Faris, coming to NOVA has opened a world of opportunities, and he’s taking advantage of that by trying classes in different engineering fields. Faris is learning about himself, what he doesn’t want in a career and what he likes. He is honing in on a possible career path that will play to his strengths.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background: 
My family is from Palestine. I was born in Egypt, and I’ve lived in the U.S. for most of my life. Usually, in the summer, I go back to Palestine. I’m kind of in both places. I have my roots over there, but also I settled here and have my roots here now.

Here’s my home, and there’s where my family is, but everything I’ve known is from here. I’ve been in Virginia for over 17 years now in the Annandale-Alexandria area. I’ve been through elementary, middle school and high school. So, I got to know everyone here.

You can meet someone from any country in Northern Virginia—and at NOVA. And since Northern Virginia is so diverse, people at NOVA are diverse, too.

What brought you to NOVA?
Honestly, I really didn't know about NOVA until my senior year, in the middle of COVID. For my last two years, school was online, and I didn't go back to high school until graduation.

During the final couple of months of high school, I was looking into if I wanted to apply to college. I didn't want to go to a four-year. I wanted to get my associate's first and save some money. I thought that was a smarter plan than getting 60 thousand dollars in debt even before two years.

I felt a bit rusty being at home and taking online classes for so long, so I wanted to go to community college, a safer spot, and regain all my study skills and good habits. The only option for me was NOVA—not the only option, but the one that was most favorable for me. I was in Palestine when I applied and signed up for classes at the last minute. I'm so glad I could do that.

What are you studying at NOVA?
Well, at first, I was a biomedical engineering major. I was looking at my future, and I'm going to have to take all these biology classes and chemistry classes. It's going to be really tough, and within one semester, that changed. Now, I’m almost fully aligned with the computer science path. But there’s also chemical engineering. I'm still not fully committed to one thing because there are so many different fields that are so interesting to me. I might apply for computer science, mostly because I'm really bad at chemistry. 

Once I was here at NOVA, I saw more opportunities and did different classes. I don't know how, but my love of computers has expanded to programming and now software engineering. I didn't want to do it, but now, I want to do it. I want to follow through with it and see what happens. I'm on track to get my associate's in engineering, and after that, I plan to either get my computer engineering degree or computer science degree. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.
I’d say my engineering professor really introduced the field of engineering to me in an amazing way. She did an amazing job outlining every different path you could take, such as mechanical, aerospace, computer engineering and electrical engineering. That was the first thing that set my mind like, hmmm, I don’t know what I want to do now.

The professors, they love their subject, and they could talk about it for hours. I really like that energy and that passion from a lot of the professors. Here, everyone is so down to earth. Everyone’s like, you need to know this stuff. I’m not going to hold your hand through it. I’ll introduce it to you. I’ll help you when you’re struggling. But if you’re not even going to come to me, you’re on your own. I think that fits much more with my way of learning than some cookie-cutter teaching style. But you need the ability to teach yourself and master this stuff.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
You can express yourself much more and be yourself much more in college than you could ever be in high school.

I’d say you have to make a schedule that you’re comfortable following and stick to it. I think one of the most important things you’ll learn in college is how to hold yourself accountable because it’s not hand-holding as in high school.

If you have something due, start as soon as possible because you are saving yourself stress and trouble. Somehow, there’s always a cascading effect. If you miss one assignment and have to do it late, then another assignment is due, and you have to do both, but because of that, you can’t finish them on time. It just snowballs into something that’s out of control, and you can’t recover from it. So, avoid that!

If you’re not holding yourself accountable, then no one will. This is even more so once you get out of college and work an actual job. All your actions—you’re going to have to deal with all those consequences.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA, or what career pursuits are you exploring?
Mainly right now, Virginia Tech, but I will apply to both V-Tech and UVA, so whichever accepts me and gives me a better deal. If I’m accepted to both, I’ll compare them more thoroughly; then I’ll go to whichever one I want to go to.

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.