Student Spotlight: Hashem Helmi
Major: Computer Science
Hashem Helmi came to College of DuPage to study computer science but returned to build his career.
After finishing high school in Iran, he could take one of two paths: go to college or join the army. He wanted to attend college, so he took the national post-high school test that determines what fields students should pursue. His results pointed him toward a technical career, such as becoming an HVACR engineer.
But that’s not what Helmi wanted to do.
“I decided to go after aeronautical engineering,” he said. “I asked my dad if I could leave the country to study this, and he said ‘yes.’ I wanted to go to the U.S., so I went to a company that helps place students internationally. They selected Chicago for my English study, and then I would enroll at the Indiana Institute of Technology.”
Helmi’s cousin was planning to attend an educational institution in Tehran, but the decision was made that both he and Helmi would travel together to the U.S. for college. Six months later, they did just that, attending a school in Glen Ellyn that taught English and living in a dorm. Unfortunately, three months later, the school went out of business and they were forced to find an apartment in Lombard.
A friend suggested that Helmi and his cousin look into College of DuPage, which cost less but offered more opportunities.
“We were on our own with limited English, dealing with a different educational system than what we had in Iran. If we had gone to a four-year school, we would have been lost,” he said. “At College of DuPage, we received personal attention. Any office we went to was willing to help. Once we started at COD, we moved into an apartment across the street.”
Because he wanted to study engineering, Helmi was required to take at least one computer programming class, which at that time was FORTRAN. He had never touched a computer before and sat through the first class session with his mouth open, not understanding a thing.
However, by the time he was ready to transfer, Helmi decided to pursue computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago while his cousin went to Northern Illinois University. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Helmi returned to College of DuPage to take several classes while learning how to better prepare himself for the job market.
“Getting a job as an outsider was not easy,” he said. “While taking classes at COD, I asked Jeannie Bowen in the IT department to hire me as a lab aide. I was so persistent that she finally gave me the job. At the time, she was teaching students how to use the computer system and I said I could do that. So I created an array of training materials, and she saw that I was capable of doing the job.”
One year later, Helmi was hired full-time to be the lab supervisor, and he never left COD after that. He continued to take classes, received his second associate’s degree and earned his master’s degree from Elmhurst College in Computer Networking Science. He has been a social host for the Community College Initiative (CCI) program for international students and is a point of contact on the multilingual employee list for many COD departments, helping students with the Persian/Farsi language. Outside COD, Helmi taught Persian language classes, served as a host for exchange students through Share America and helped at Irshad Learning Center, a nonprofit organization for religious and cultural activities.
In 2016, Helmi was selected as one of College of DuPage’s Distinguished Alumni. He cannot say enough good things about COD.
“When anyone asks me about the school, I say COD holds its own and more against any four-year college,” he said. “You can see the quality in the teaching, the buildings, the technology and the support.”
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