Saif Alrafeek is a truly multicultural citizen of the world. He was born in Iraq, moved to Italy at age four, and returned to Iraq in 1990. After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at Baghdad University in 2008, he became an instructor at his alma mater. As manager of Quality Assurance and Accreditation he spent four years working with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) structuring, writing and archiving an accreditation self-assessment report to help University of Baghdad gain higher education accreditation.
He was selected to travel to Turkey for further education in academic accreditation and in 2012 received a scholarship from the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MoHESR) to study for his doctorate in the United States. He came to Western Michigan University in 2014 to begin his research on biomechanical solutions to assist orthopedic surgeons treating patients with arthrodesis, the surgical fusion of bones to immobilize a joint, in the foot and ankle. Saif’s research helps surgeons by providing them with computer modeling, biomechatronics simulation , and experimental work on foot and ankle samples. In conjunction with that, he has been publishing his findings in academic societies and organizations in America. His future goals include teaching, research, and consulting or diplomatic work in academic or cultural affairs. Since he has a keen interest in helping students, Saif enjoys student affairs work in admissions, orientations, immigration services, study abroad, and helping students find funding opportunities.
Because he is interested in higher education administration, he jumped at the chance to attend a full-day ‘Behind the W’ workshop on June 10 along with ten Graduate Ambassadors. They were the first WMU students to experience ‘Behind the W’, as they joined with faculty and staff to learn WMU’s history as well as tips for communicating with various audiences and WMU visual identity. Saif has also attended several Graduate College sponsored workshops and found “Learning to Manage Time: A Special Seminar for Graduate Students” in March 2014 to be particularly helpful. By using time management techniques he learned in the workshop, Saif has been able to achieve some of his other goals, including singing karaoke both on-campus and off. Since Saif has been intently a big fan of different kinds of music, he met several musicians and went to some live concerts in America. Also, through his collaboration with the Iraqi Student Association he performed a traditional Iraqi dance onstage at the International Festival at WMU in March 2015.
One of his most memorable achievements, besides his academic and professional success, has been to meet his idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reached the highest levels of success as a bodybuilder, earning world titles many times. He then became a highly successful actor in blockbuster films, such as the Terminator franchise in the 1980s, before conquering politics by becoming governor of California in 2003. Through the years Saif followed Schwarzenegger’s career, finding inspiration in the fact that an immigrant with a heavy accent could reach such heights of fame in America. When he found out that Schwarzenegger was coming to Ohio in March 2016 for a fitness festival, Saif set out in his car to achieve one of his lifetime goals: meeting and talking with Arnold Schwarzenegger. After several hours of trying to penetrate layers of security around the star, the international student met the international star. Arnold, coming out of his dressing room, saw Saif wearing a Terminator II T-shirt and commented, “It is very beneficial for you to wear such a T-shirt!” Saif introduced himself as an international Ph.D. student from Iraq studying at Western Michigan University. Schwarzenegger asked him what kind of studies he was pursuing at WMU, and congratulated Saif upon learning that he is studying for a doctorate in mechanical engineering. He agreed to pose for a selfie with Saif and this is the picture you see accompanying this feature. Saif says that he traveled back to Kalamazoo with a fire burning in his heart to accomplish his next goal: passing his comprehensive exam. Later that same week, with Schwarzenegger’s encouraging words echoing in his head, he passed his exam and moved to the dissertation phase of his degree. His proposed dissertation title is “Development and Validation of Hybrid Continuum/Structural Finite Element Model for Evaluating Food and Ankle Biomechanics.” With the help of his mentor and chair of his dissertation committee, Dr. Peter Gustafson, along with committee members Dr. Koorosh Naghshineh, Dr. Daniel Kujawski and orthopaedic surgeon: James Jastifer, Saif intends to graduate in Fall 2017.