My name is Mona Samer Minkara. I was born in Maryland to loving, Lebanese immigrant parents, and grew up with my two younger siblings in the Boston area. When I was seven, I was diagnosed with macular degeneration and cone rod dystrophy. One specialist told my mother that I was not worth educating.
Not heeding this advice, my parents supported me through the Massachusetts public school system. Teachers did not always know how to approach my education, and it was often a struggle. Towards the end of high school, I began to realize my own potential–that it was different from what society expects from a blind individual. I began taking advanced classes, and surprised everyone–myself included–with my success.
From that point forward, I realized that my blindness was not a dead-end for academic advancement. I continued taking advanced classes for the rest of high school, and I was accepted to Wellesly College with scholarships. I will be forever grateful to the community of barrier-defying women that surrounded me at Wellesly. The faculty and students alike broadened my ideas of possibility and taught me to think both critically and compassionately about the world. I double majored in Middle Eastern Studies and Chemistry, at first uncertain which route I would follow, but increasingly pulled towards science as I began to engage in research.
My first summer as an undergraduate at Wellesley College, I received a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates award and continued to receive this award each subsequent summer as an undergraduate. It was through this experience that I first realized my passion for scientific research. After graduating from Wellesley, I continued research, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for a year before being awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and moving to the University of Florida for my Ph.D. At the University of Florida, my research focussed on biological systems and drug design by using computational chemistry. After I received my Ph.D. from the University of Florida, I was invited by Professor J. Ilja Siepmann to join his group, where my research focus shifted to novel studies of surfactants using Monte Carlo algorithms.
To me, academia has always been more than a sphere for personal ambition. Success seems wasted to me if its not achieved in a way that lifts others up as well. The goal for my academic career is to carve a path for future blind scientists, so that the unique skills and perspective of the blind community can be more broadly utilized by the scientific world. I am infinitely grateful to those who have uplifted me and aspire to pass that generosity forward.
In the commencement speech I was honored to give at my Wellesley College graduation, I shared some of the spirit of my ideals. You can view this speech in two parts below: