Behind the Story: Cal Poly professor talks struggles of quarantine on both school and faith

Being tasked with writing a blog post was the perfect way to wholeheartedly reflect on the milestone of completing my senior project — and also finishing college. For our final project, my partner Jack Berkenfield and I interviewed industrial technology and packaging professor Ahmed Deif. Deif is also the president of the board of the San Luis Obispo Islamic Society. When approached for the opportunity to be featured for our senior project, Deif showed nothing but enthusiasm for the opportunity to help us.

Our interview was one of my top three favorites I have ever been a part of because Deif was one of the most open and honest interviewees I have ever worked with. He gave us deep insights into his personal struggles dealing with this pandemic — specifically about how he has dealt with celebrating Ramadan during quarantine. (Learn more about the importance of Ramadan here.) However, he also had no reservations about opening up to us about his feelings and how this pandemic has affected his mental health.

“I am sharing with you a personal thing: I miss my students,” said Deif. “I really miss my students. I like to speak to my students. I like to bump into them in the hallway. I like my office hours where they come in and we chat. I am missing that. When we [as professors] speak together in our happy hours we share these kinds of feelings. We are missing our students. It sucks, to be honest, being really distant from students.”

Not only was Deif an emotional interview, but he was also extremely informative. We had a very concise conversational interview on Memorial Day and I was able to get almost all of my Q&A material from this. My partner Jack was able to go out, taking the appropriate health precautions, to the mosque Deif visits. He interviewed him a few times and felt like he was able to build a friendly rapport with our subject.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share Dr. Deif’s story,” said Berkenfield. “I really enjoyed doing the A/V side of this project. I prefer the video process to the print process, and I feel like I built a quality relationship with our subject Dr. Deif. I learned a lot from him over the past few weeks, both about the Muslim community in SLO and about gamification theory.”

Jack was also in charge of conducting our KCPR interview which went smoothly and gave radio listeners a snippet of insight into our subject’s story.

Overall, this project was one of the smoothest and most memorable stories I have ever covered. We were lucky enough to round out our last class of college with a punctual, emotional, well-spoken, concise and caring individual. We couldn’t have asked for more in a final story subject and we both feel very grateful for the opportunity to tell his story.