Originally published on InForum. MOORHEAD – Shireen Alemadi describes her younger self as an organized girl who always loved school.
Now the director of Community Outreach at Minnesota State University Moorhead, she uses those organizational skills to encourage that same passion for learning in kids and teenagers.
She puts the pieces together for College for Kids & Teens, a summer camp program for students in K-12 with three new camps in the works for this summer. She also does a wide variety of outreach programs throughout the year.
“Many MSUM students call our president, Anne (Blackhurst), ‘Mama Dragon,’ ” says Theresa Hest, professor of communication and journalism. “Surely, Shireen is a ‘Dragon daughter,’ a nonstop cheerleader for campus. She takes care of everyone like an older sister and has the energy and drive of a teenager.”
Alemadi began teaching College for Kids & Teens classes in 2007, the same year she started as a faculty member at MSUM. She taught Crazy Kitchen Chemistry, Grossology (airborne particles, microorganisms and bodily functions), Animals, Animals Everywhere, and Who Done It?, where kids analyze forensics and crime scene evidence, DNA and fingerprinting methods.
Her field of study reflects that early love of school, which dates back to her days at the now-defunct Carl Ben Eielson Elementary in Fargo.
“I gravitated toward the sciences and those teachers who took an interest in students, engaged with them and didn’t just talk at them,” she says.
Alemadi became director of College for Kids & Teens in the fall of 2011 and worked to expand the program, which was founded in the late 1990s by Kathleen McNabb, current assistant to the MSUM president.
Last year, nearly 1,300 students attended courses. They could choose from about 80 courses, taught by MSUM students, alumni, faculty and educators from the community who encourage exploration, adventure and creativity. Weekly themes feature ceramics, fitness and sports, video game design, nature, painting, drawing and more.
“College for Kids is a powerful example of MSUM’s efforts to combine community engagement and student achievement—with the goal of being indispensable to the communities we serve,” Blackhurst says. “The impact of Shireen’s leadership cannot be overestimated. She has a keen understanding of how to make learning engaging and fun for kids.”
Alemadi has now transitioned from faculty to director of Community Outreach. In 2016, after planning with campus and state colleagues, she is helping start three new camps for grades 9-12, including Coding Camp (computers), SCRUBS Camp (health/medical) and Multimedia Journalism Camp (traditional and digital content).
Additional university outreach includes attending art nights and science nights at local middle and elementary schools to promote summer programs, working with local and regional teachers to plan half-day and full-day engagement opportunities at MSUM, helping to put on Hour of Code, and working with MSUM Intramurals Director Kari Peterson and the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau to sponsor an Almost 3K at the Zoo during January’s Frostival.
In 2013, MSUM awarded Alemadi the Excellence Award for Service to the Community.
Alemadi describes herself as an achiever who plans for the future strategically and believes in connections between people.
Her father, from the Kurdish Territory in Northern Iraq, came to Fargo with the first wave of Kurdish refugees in the late 1970s, and her mother, from Napoleon, N.D., has a Germans-from-Russia heritage.
As a child, Alemadi remembers herself as being very organized and mature.
At Fargo South, where she graduated in 1998, she says she “came into her own” by working as a yearbook editor and creating advertising for the Sudhian newspaper.
“I was friends with most everyone,” she says. “I had a secure sense of self from an early age. Even as a young person, I was sensible, logical and organized. I think ahead about my actions and the consequences and have no problem making decisions.”
‘Queen of the room’
It was a natural transition for Alemadi to enter the MSUM Biosciences Department, where she took a course from professor Brian Wisenden, who became her undergraduate mentor.
“I came to MSUM hoping to be a criminal justice major and solve crimes for places like the FBI,” Aldemadi says. “But my first class with Professor Wisenden changed all of that.”
As a student, she and Wisenden published an academic paper on the chemical ecology of fish behavior showing how fish use chemicals to make decisions about predators. They later collaborated on two other research projects, and one was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Science in London.
During her undergraduate years, Alemadi served as president of Tri-Beta, the biological honor society.
“Shireen was probably the most effective president we have ever had,” Wisenden says. “She is a very good organizer and extremely effective at managing projects and people. I always kept in touch with her, helped her get into a graduate school and come back to teach at MSUM. In the classroom, she is the ‘queen of the room.’ She has quite a presence, and you know who is in control.”
In 2006, Alemadi earned her Master of Science in biology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando with an emphasis in ecology and field biology. At MSUM, she taught a variety of biology courses to majors and nonmajors, from first-year to senior students during her time as a faculty member.
In addition to her new position, she mentors students through the Dragon Leadership Program.
35 Under 35
The United Way of Cass-Clay recently chose Alemadi to participate in its 2016 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program. This program mobilizes the caring power of women, energizes and inspires to make a difference, and deepens leadership opportunities for local young women.
“We will meet each month and focus on topics relating to personal growth, leadership and philanthropy,” Alemadi says.
Tiffany McShane of the United Way says there have been 245 alumni now using leadership skills they learned to make the community stronger.
“Shireen’s reputation certainly precedes her,” McShane says. “It didn’t take long for our committee to notice that she is well-respected on the MSUM campus and throughout the greater community. We look forward to sharing this leadership position with her and learn more about the profound impact she is having.”
For more information on camps and community outreach, visitwww.mnstate.edu/outreach.