Ray Tahhan is the prestigious College of Sciences scholar and will proudly be the banner carrier at Old Dominion University’s May commencement.  This honor is bestowed by the Alumni Association and recognizes graduating students with the highest GPAs in their respective colleges. Tahhan will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in pre-health on May 7, 2024, and will continue the next phase of his journey very close by at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). With both schools set to merge on July 1, 2024, Tahhan is excited about his future.

From his will to work hard to helping those in his community, Tahhan has a heart for helping others and the work ethic to achieve anything he puts his mind to. As his journey ends at ODU, he is humbled by his experiences and grateful for the opportunities he’s taken advantage of as a Monarch.

Tahhan comes from a family of medical doctors, but his family’s history is complicated. The Lebanese Civil War started in 1975 which was an armed conflict between religious groups between the elite and poorest in the country. Nearly 200,000 people were killed, and one-million people made a mass exodus from Lebanon. However, Tahhan’s father stayed and completed his medical degree during the war. “My dad is a medical doctor and he graduated from Saint Joseph University of Beirut in Lebanon,” said Tahhan. 

Tahhan’s father eventually left Lebanon and settled in France for a while, but his relatives wanted the family to move to the United States of America. “I think he partially came to America because of my granddad,” said Tahhan. “My dad came here and then he did his residency in the United States because you're mandated to of course,” said Tahhan.

Initially, Tahhan’s father did his residency training in Connecticut and then moved to Hampton Roads to take a job at Norfolk General Hospital. After visiting Syria, Tahhan’s father fell in love and got married and their family settled down in Norfolk. Tahhan attended and graduated from Norfolk Collegiate School.

Tahhan’s father was the leading inspiration for him to want to go to college. “He went to school during the 1975 Lebanese Civil War, and I was like, ‘oh man, if my dad can go to school and get all this stuff done during a Civil War, then I really have no excuse,’” said Tahhan.

Coming from a lineage of educators Tahhan said, “I would say I'm a first-generation student in America, but my family definitely went to school outside of America.” Tahhan’s grandparents were instructors at ODU. His paternal grandfather, Raymond Tahhan, taught Arabic language at ODU and his grandmother, Denise Tahhan, taught French.

His maternal grandfather died in February 2024, but David Metzger, Ph.D., dean of the Perry Honors College took an “Introduction to Arabic” class under Tahhan’s grandfather. “When I talked with Dr. Metzger he was like, ‘oh, I knew your granddad when I was in undergrad, and I took one of his classes.’”

When it came to college, Tahhan had some big shoes to fill and wasn’t sure if he should go. “At first, I wasn't sure what college I wanted to go to, but I decided to go to ODU because it felt like it would be a really good school for me, primarily because of its closeness to where I was already living,” said Tahhan. “I wanted to stay near my family, and ODU is also a very affordable and good school, so it made the most sense to go to here and not somewhere else.”

When he started at ODU in the fall of 2020, the university and the country were in lockdown because of COVID-19 global pandemic restrictions. Tahhan used this time to make some personal decisions. “I know Covid was a really tough time for a lot of people, and for me, I treated Covid as a way to kind of not reinvent myself but rework a lot of the things that I thought were important,” said Tahhan. “For me, I took time to look at my values, look at what I was doing, and try and build a better life for myself after high school.” He admits, “I wasn't a great student in high school, and I spent a lot of time playing games with my friends online or attending social events.” However, in college he changed and used the extra time he had to delve deeper into reading about science, medicine, philosophy or “whatever I could get my hands on just because I thought it would be fun.”  

Tahhan was laser focused on accomplishing some big goals in college. He worked hard and was a part of the Perry Honors College. Originally, Tahhan majored in biological sciences, but decided to switch to biomedical sciences because it was more specialized in human biology and physiology. 

He turned his focus to doing well academically and sought opportunities to do undergraduate research. “I've done a lot of research with Dr. Lisa Shollenberger, which has been awesome, and I've really enjoyed that,” said Tahhan.

Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Lisa M Shollenberger, Ph.D. led research efforts with Tahhan for three years. “It was Dr. Doug Mills who first introduced us, and Ray has been a valuable member of my laboratory ever since. Ray always displayed curiosity and dedication in the lab and received several awards from the Perry Honors College to conduct undergraduate research. Beyond his scholarship, Ray is thoughtful and always ready to lend an ear, a smile, or a wave.”

He has done in-depth research in measuring antibodies and vaccines with and without infection with a parasite. “That was super interesting and super fun, mostly because I got to dive into some of the immunology behind it. And a lot of the actual lab work that goes into not only doing research, but also in a medical lab because they use the same test.” Diagnosing diseases in the lab sparked even more curiosity for Tahhan. “I think if students have the opportunity to do research at the undergraduate level in the sciences, they should,” said Tahhan. “It's super beneficial, and it can only help you build practical skills early on, and for me it was a no brainer, and I loved it.”  

His other love was tutoring, and he saw a need and took the next steps to figure out how he could help his fellow Monarchs. “I was seeing some students who were really struggling, and I felt bad because I felt like I could tell that they're missing some things that are really important,” said Tahhan. He talked to Senior Lecturer Janet Rinehart-Kim, Ph.D., his genetics teacher, and she suggested that he lead supplemental instruction (SI) sessions for Douglas Mills, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences. 

“My favorite thing I've done at ODU is tutoring,” said Tahhan. He’s done SI and tutoring with the ODU Science Tutoring Centers (STC) for two years. “I fell in love with teaching and doing research.” Also, he tutored middle school and high schoolers in their science courses. “When I'm doing something with teaching, what I love about it is a student will come in with a problem, and I will give them the tools to solve that direct problem,” said Tahhan. He enjoys helping people connect to the material. “I get to see them progress over time and give them the tools to where they can solve their own problems in the future, and that's also why I want to go into medicine.”  

Tahhan was recently admitted into EVMS’s Medical Doctor program. “It's going to be very interesting with the merger and everything but I'm super excited,” said Tahhan. “To me it makes perfect sense because you have these two institutions that both have this history of service to the Hampton Roads area that want to come together and pool their resources,” said Tahhan.

Leaving meaningful impressions on the people around him are just as important to Tahhan as his academics. Most recently he volunteered at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk at their winter homeless shelter over his winter break. He spent several hours a day in the shelter cooking and serving food to those suffering from home insecurity, and he gained a new perspective about homelessness. Also, he made time to help at the Monarch pantry, a place for ODU students to get food if they are facing food insecurity. At the pantry he stocked shelves and again found time to talk to fellow Monarchs who came in for food. 

As he looks back over his time at ODU, he has some advice to people thinking about coming here. “ODU is a smart move financially if you live in this area. Also, because of the size of the classrooms at ODU, you can have a very personal relationship with your professor, where they will know you as an individual and be able to work with you individually,” said Tahhan. He speaks highly of the “easily accessible opportunities” available to Monarchs and why diversity is important.

“I've met people from all across the world from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and the Philippines,” said Tahhan. “Something that I think ODU does well, alongside the diversity within the actual student body in terms of ethnic background or racial background, is, I think it's super cool that ODU has a lot of people of different religious backgrounds.” 

In thinking back over his time at ODU and being named College of Sciences scholar, he was excited when he got the news, “but I didn't think about it in terms of what it meant, and I'm just super honored.” He is elated for his next steps. “I'm very happy to be going to EVMS and staying within kind of the Monarch family,” said Tahhan.