Family Tradition

Nov. 2, 2020

The Hejase siblings showcase Spartans Will

First, it was five Hejases at Syracuse University.

The Hejase family chose MSU to continue their family's higher education legacy. From left, Hussein, Charifa, Jose, and Ahmad Hejase gathered in May 2016 to celebrate Charifa's graduation with a master's degree in environmental engineering.
The Hejase family chose MSU to continue their family's higher education legacy. From left, Hussein, Charifa, Jose, and Ahmad Hejase gathered in May 2016 to celebrate Charifa's graduation with a master's degree in environmental engineering.

Fast forward to the next generation and the family tradition is now draped in green and white.

Four members of the Hejase family are continuing a very personal higher education journey through the opportunities at Michigan State University.

“We joined MSU to pursue our higher education, in the process continuing our family legacy in science and engineering following in the footsteps of our dad and his siblings,” said Charifa Hejase (’20). “They received their doctoral degrees from Syracuse University, but we’re proud to be Spartans,” she noted.

At MSU, Jose Hejase was the first sibling to graduate. He received a PhD in electrical engineering in May 2012.

Hussein Hejase then completed a dual doctoral degree in computer science and quantitative biology in December 2017.

Next up was Charifa Hejase, earning a dual doctorate in environmental engineering and environmental science and policy in August 2020.

“Our youngest sibling, Ahmad, is currently a first-year PhD student in computer science,” she said.

This Hejase family portrait was taken in 1997. Front: Charifa, middle: brothers Hussein, Jose and baby Ahmad, and parents: Layla Bazzi Hejase and Ale Hejase.
This Hejase family portrait was taken in 1997. Front: Charifa, middle: brothers Hussein, Jose and baby Ahmad, and parents: Layla Bazzi Hejase and Ale Hejase.

Charifa Hejase shared her family story:

The Hejase Spartans start their story with the Hejase family patriarch, their grandfather Jose Ale Hejase Don Jose (as he was called in Mexico).

A young farmer from south Lebanon in the 1920s, he had little opportunity for growth and development in Lebanon and the Middle East at the time. So, he looked to the Americas, like many young men of his generation around the world.

He set out on a perilous journey by ship to a part of the world he knew little about. With no knowledge of foreign languages, with meager financial means, and no travel experience, the trip may only have been possible due to a perseverant nature to dream and make dreams come true.

Don Jose’s journey took him to Torreon, Mexico, where he started working as a street merchant. Within a few years, with enormous hard work and with the help of some good people along the way, he became an established businessman in Torreon with several merchandise stores.

Years later, Don Jose married the Hejase Spartans’ future grandmother, Charifa Hejase. She was a young woman with a heart of gold who believed in hard work, raising a good family, and establishing the right environment for her children to rise to their potentials. Grandfather Jose and Grandmother Charifa were strong believers in education – believing it was the way to enriching personalities and responsible, decent lives. Those values and examples catapulted their children to pursue a career in higher education.

Sticking together as a family in another country, Syracuse University in the USA became the new home for the siblings. The five Syracuse siblings were resilient in their own right and achieved advanced degrees in biophysics; materials science and solid-state technology; electrical engineering; and chemical engineering. (See Syracuse University Magazine, February 1987, Page 4.)

“Our Dad, Ale, was the electrical engineer,” Charifa Hejase explained. “He taught us that not much is impossible if we put our head to it and encouraged us to develop skill sets in fields that we love – so for us it’s a lot of computer science and engineering.”

She said the Hejase Spartans grew up in Lebanon, the land of their ancestors.

“It was there we received our elementary and secondary education. We grew up in a warm family home environment and were able to establish the life tenants set forward by Ale and Layla, our mother. The impact of Layla on her children’s lives was no less than that of Ale,” she said. “My parents’ sacrifices, steadfastness, values and humbleness led us to today’s Hejase Spartans.

“In a similar fashion to the previous generation of the Syracuse Hejases, the Spartan Hejases bonded together as a family in pursuit of their education at Michigan State University,” she added.

Today, the Hejase Spartans are building their next generation.

Jose (PhD ’12) lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Nadine, and daughter, Rachelle. He works with NVIDIA as principal signal integrity engineer, experiencing some of the latest technological research and development of computer hardware technologies.

Hussein (dual PhDs, ’17) is now a scientist in computational genomics at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson in Pennsylvania, where he studies large population-based cohorts to identify biomarkers and validate potential therapeutic targets. He lives with his wife, Maya, and daughter, Leila.

Charifa (dual PhDs, ’20) is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Her research is focused on water reuse from non-traditional source waters for agricultural activities.

Ahmad (BS, ’19) is a long-time Spartan. He received his bachelor’s degree in computer science last fall and is now continuing his PhD studies. His goal is to be a data scientist to make sense of ever-growing digital data.

“We all believe that while it is important to have a strong will to achieve and an appreciation to problem solve in order to succeed, our successes would not have been possible without those that came before us - those that helped us along the way, Michigan State University, and the country (USA) that gave us the opportunities. It is our willful duty to help others along the way to succeed in addition to engraining the same sense of family and tradition in the future generation of Hejases,” she added.