EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories and videos highlighting outstanding graduates from the Fall 2018 commencement ceremonies that will take place on Saturday, Dec. 15.
The pursuit of an education to follow a desired career path can place a student on a long and life-changing journey. For Ahmed Alghamdi, his wife, Raniya, and their growing family, the thousands of days, spent many miles from home, are now becoming few as he prepares to participate in his Ferris State University commencement ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 15.
Ahmed gained his first experience in media production working behind the scenes for MBC, the Middle East Broadcasting Center’s network affiliate in his hometown of El Bahah, Saudi Arabia, a community of around 100,000 people in the country's southwestern region. With Raniya hoping to become a nurse, and Ahmed desiring to pursue documentary film-making, the couple chose to follow those dreams in Michigan. They selected the ELS Educational Services, Inc. program, which is offered on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus, to build their English communication skills, beginning in 2010.
“We each spent four to five months in the ELS program, and I moved on to Mid-Michigan College in Mount Pleasant,” Alghamdi said. “I was still developing my communication skills, and took the opportunity to commute there and earn my first college credits while I sought the right program where I might continue my learning.”
Searching the internet, to review video production programs, led Alghamdi to the Ferris Television and Digital Media Production program.
“I was impressed that the program stressed the technical aspects of production,” he said. “Ferris was definitely the right choice for me in terms of completing my General Education, and to enter and complete the TDMP curriculum.”
School of Digital Media Coordinator Glen Okonoski, a professor in the TDMP program, said he only became aware of Alghamdi’s status as a father and commuter student during a capstone course, which concludes this semester.
“Ahmed certainly had more demands on his time than many of his classmates,” Okonoski said. “He has handled these additional challenges quietly, without complaint and with grace. This is a strong credit to him and his approach to his study at Ferris.”
Alghamdi began his Ferris studies in 2015 while commuting to the Big Rapids campus, from the Standale area, west of Grand Rapids. As Raniya pursued a Nursing degree, at Grand Valley, their daughter, Watin, entered school, and her brother, Abdullah, followed. Their children are now in the fifth and third grades, respectively.
Alghamdi said the TDMP curriculum has met and exceeded his expectations, even as a student who came in with industry experience. It also allowed him to build on skills he hoped to grow, regarding production.
“I certainly have more experience in group productions, now,” Alghamdi said. “My early experiences, in Saudi Arabia, had involved video gathering and processing, and I am glad to have added classroom experience in studio work.”
Okonoski, as Alghamdi’s instructor, said he observed this aspect of student growth.
“Directing live television is difficult, in part, because of all the communication that is required,” Okonoski said. “Doing the work well, and professionally, relies on the use of a lot of industry-specific terms, while giving verbal commands. As a non-native English speaker, Ahmed overcame an additional challenge, here, and did so with calm.”
Though Alghamdi plans to participate in commencement exercises, he must complete an internship to meet his degree requirements. That opportunity will be taken up with Details Media Production, based in Riyadh, the media center of Saudi Arabia.
“I will be starting a six-month assignment right at the start of the year, working as a producer on a documentary project,” Ahmed said. “I have been looking forward to learning more about this type of production, but it will be an adjustment, bringing my family to a town of seven million people. It will certainly be different culturally and environmentally. I believe it would be like someone leaving Grand Rapids and settling in New York City.”
An additional challenge for the Alghamdi family is making this international move with an infant in tow. Their third child, a son named Rayan, was born on Thanksgiving Day.
“I know there will be many things to think about and accomplish during my internship, and Raniya and I have been talking about how we will deal with all of these changes that will come our way in a short amount of time,” Ahmed said. “Watin was a toddler when we got to Michigan, and Abdullah was born in the United States. We did try hard, as a family, to immerse ourselves in the local culture. We have done very well with it, and recognize that there is a lot to give up with our return to Saudi Arabia.”
The Alghamdis will be welcomed back to Saudi Arabia by larger nuclear families, as Ahmed has two brothers and six sisters, and Raniya has five brothers and three sisters.
“I know my parents are excited. I am hearing each day about how my mother wants to see her grandchildren and have us back among them,” Alghamdi said. “Still, we have mixed feelings, as Grand Rapids has become very comfortable and we have made friends. It will be very satisfying, though, that I can go back, as the first in my family to complete this level of education and reunite with my family.”
Though there are significant challenges in the weeks and months ahead, Alghamdi is also giving serious consideration to where he might enter the field of documentary production.
“I hope to get as much information as possible to determine what the right route would be,” Alghamdi said. “There are not as many independent producers in Saudi Arabia. Most of the opportunities are found with companies or government media outlets. I hope to be able to create messages that are welcomed in my home country and society. I want to produce documentaries that address the real issues faced by the people of Saudi Arabia, in their language with messages that are useful to them, while also making them available to the multinational and global audience.”
Alghamdi has also earned a minor in Philosophy, and that aspect of his education has
been detailed in a video produced by the TDMP program this semester.
PHOTO CAPTION: Ahmed Alghamdi, a native of El Bahah, Saudi Arabia will graduate from Ferris State University on Saturday, Dec. 15. The husband and father of three will earn his Bachelor of Science in Television and Digital Media Production, along with a minor in Philosophy.