When Jihad Abouhatab was an undergrad at a local college, a professor told him that he should think about changing his name so that it wouldn’t hinder his career.
Abouhatab was shocked.
His professor didn’t realize how offensive her statement was until she realized that it slipped out in front of an entire class of students, he said. Although she didn’t mean to be offensive, she mentioned that she, along with other professors, “usually recommend that students with foreign names change them to names that are easier to read and pronounce,” said Abouhatab, who declined to name the school.
But he didn’t let it get him down.
“I honestly took it as a challenge more than an insult,” he said.
Abouhatab, a 26-year-old resident of West Philadelphia who’s deeply embedded in the Muslim community, wanted to prove that even people without a popular name could make it. It’s one reason he cofounded a volunteer-run mentorship program for Muslim students called LAMP (Leadership Advancement Mentorship Program).
Launched in 2013, LAMP provides Muslim students all over the country with leadership guidance as well as career advice. Mentees learn to network, write resumes and interview for jobs. The program also confronts the possible discrimination Muslims may face in the workplace, while also encouraging members to inform and educate coworkers on misconceptions of Islam if they arise.
LAMP focuses on several industries, including tech, engineering and business. The leadership team includes Abouhatab, who is now a consultant at Deloitte & Touche focused on technology risk; Tarek Hassan, a Temple bioengineering grad who worked on the school’s Mars Rover Project and Atif Javed, a San Francisco-based product manager at Oracle. Most of LAMP’s more than 100 mentors and mentees are in Philadelphia or along the Northeast.
Through empowering one another, LAMP believes that it’s building a stronger community during times of tribulation.
“This is how minorities flourish,” Abouhatab said. “It’s how the Irish, Jews and Italians did it decades ago. By building businesses, becoming leaders and developing organizations and institutions.”
Mentor Hatem Abdelmonem said he wished there was something like LAMP that existed after he graduated from Rutgers Business School.
“My college was small and our alumni network wasn’t that strong,” said Abdelmonem, 36. He’s now an engagement manager at Cyan Health in New York City.
One LAMP mentee, Umama Ahmed, credits the program with helping her land an internship at Tiffany & Co.
A junior studying IT at Rutgers New Brunswick, Ahmed said her mentor, Abouhatab, made her feel confident in her value as a professional.
“I would recommend LAMP to my friends because for the first time in my college career, I feel like someone is taking an interest in my career path and sincerely wants to help me be successful,” she said.