By Sam McDonald


At her graduation in December, English major Ayat Yousef was honored as the Outstanding University Scholar, the highest student award bestowed each semester by Old Dominion University's Alumni Association.

Despite racking up high marks throughout her time at ODU, Yousef didn't expect to bring home a top prize for academic excellence.

"I was really shocked, honestly," said Yousef, who augmented her English studies with a minor in secondary education. "There are a lot of outstanding people in my cohort. If there was a way to split the award I certainly would, but it was not my decision to make."

Besides earning a stellar GPA, Yousef graduated a semester early thanks to transfer credits accumulated at Kecoughtan High School in Hampton.

At ODU, her main extracurricular activity was serving as a student assistant at the ODU Language Learning Center. She was part of a team of assistants nominated for the 2023 SEES Leadership Award for Intercultural Relations.

"Yousef is quite an amazing young scholar, and she was a dream to work with on projects," said Betty Rose Facer, master lecturer of world languages and director of the Language Learning Center. "She was certainly instrumental in our research studies on virtual reality. I'm so proud and happy for her!"

At the center, Yousef tutored Latin students and helped produce the LLChat Podcast. Facer wrote that she was comfortable interviewing fellow students and international CEOs alike.

Yousef named Facer as her inspirational faculty member. "I've enjoyed her friendship, her professionalism, as well as her compassion and empathy for others," she said. "I've learned life skills from her. She's been a good mentor and has supported me throughout my academics."

Yousef arrived in the United States at age 3 when her family moved from Palestine. The family has lived in Hampton since arriving in America in 2005. Yousef continued living with her parents and grandparents while studying at ODU.

Now, she's preparing for a career in education. "I'm open to other things, but that would be my preference," she said. "It's a new chapter for me. I'm excited to explore and see what's out there."

She described her time at ODU as both rewarding and intense.

"It went by fast," Yousef said. "This award is the icing on a very short cake."