Ask Bilal Turkistani about his years as an undergraduate education student in Saudi Arabia, and he won't sugarcoat the truth.
"I was careless about my studies," he said. "I didn’t take it seriously."
Turkistani's attitude changed in 2010, a year of transformation in his personal life. He was married on July 5, and five days later, the newlyweds arrived in the United States as part of the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program. Turkistani's wife, Asma Shujaa, had been awarded a scholarship to pursue an advanced communications degree abroad.
"It was like I was sleeping, and then I woke up," Turkistani said.
As his wife enrolled in Seton Hall University for a Master of Arts degree in strategic communication, Turkistani got his own education back on track, first taking extra time to learn English, and then applying to Seton Hall's College of Education and Human Services for a Master of Arts degree in instructional design and technology with a concentration in autism studies. This innovative program focuses on the integration of new technology with assistive technologies to enhance learning in special education settings and inclusive classrooms.
Turkistani described a pivotal interview with Professor Rosemary Skeele, the Instructional Design & Technology Program director.
"She said, 'I'll give you conditional admission, but you need to get at least a B in the first two classes in the first semester,'" Turkistani recalled. "Thank God, I got an A, for the first time in my life! I celebrated."
Thankful for the second chance to succeed, Turkistani never looked back. He is applying to Ph.D. programs and has plans to return to his home country when his studies are completed to open his own center for people with autism.
"Saudi Arabia is growing up in its approach to autism, but slowly," Turkistani said. "I saw teachers there who wanted to help, but they didn't have enough knowledge to make teaching strategies that would help the students. Their role in some cases was more like a babysitter than a teacher."
This commencement season, the 27-year-old Turkistani is reflecting on his time at The Hall, which included the birth of his son, Bacel, in June 2013, and his goals for the future. He thanks Skeele for "a big chance" to help turn his life around, and he hopes for an illustrious career as an educator to prove just how right she was to believe in him. Skeele has no doubts about his future.
"From the day I met Bilal, he has wanted to embrace the social consciousness that we espouse in the College of Education and bring it back to his country. His desire to work with persons with autism was clearly his mission," she said. "Bilal's second chance to excel in an academic setting will bring many second chances to students with disabilities."
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