Mody Kutkut was born in the United States to a family of immigrants. Through their struggles, he learned the importance of expressing gratitude for the things that many take for granted.

“My family came from war-torn countries, and the situation was and still is pretty unstable,” said Kutkut. “They faced problems that a lot of us don’t have to worry about, like the power going out and staying out for very long periods of time.”

The electrical and computer engineering senior’s mother grew up in Lebanon, while his dad lived in nearby Jordan. Money was not abundant for either of them while living in those countries, and their path to a new life hinged on pursuing an education.

“Getting top scores on a national exam was the way out for my parents, and scoring high enough to get admitted to an American university was no easy task,” said Kutkut. “My mom studied relentlessly even without lights and with a war being fought just outside her doors.”

Kutkut’s mother ended up scoring very well despite the distractions and earned a scholarship for her education from the prime minister of Lebanon. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for graduate school to study electrical engineering and met Kutkut’s father, also in electrical engineering.

“So many things had to go right for both of them to come here, and not just come here, but to also find success here,” said Kutkut.  

The apple doesn’t fall far

Kutkut, who grew up in Blacksburg, explained that his family’s story has had a profound impact on him. Their hard-fought journey to America and path to success has made Kutkut’s own educational expedition one that he will never take for granted. 

“My parents’ dedication to their studies and drive to achieve a better life for their families serve as a reminder of not only all the things I should be grateful for, but also why I decided to pursue engineering in the first place — to serve others who are less fortunate than me,” he said.

Kutkut followed in his parents’ footsteps, studied hard in high school, and earned a spot in the inaugural cohort of the Calhoun Honors Discovery Program. The program brings together students in 14 participating programs spanning engineering, science, business, design arts, humanities, and policy. It combines a structured disciplinary education with an open-ended, collaborative, and transdisciplinary discovery process that allows students to collaborate with one another across disciplines throughout their undergraduate education on projects addressing real world problems.

Four students stand in front of poster project inside of a modern university building.
Mody Kutkut (third from left) stands with his teammates from the Enabling Energy team at the Calhoun Honors Discovery Program senior design expo. Photo by Chelsea Seeber for Virginia Tech.

“As soon as I found out I was selected to join the Calhoun Discovery Program, I knew it was an opportunity I could not pass up,” said Kutkut.

In the program, Kutkut worked on projects addressing energy insecurity, or the lack of access to reliable, affordable, and efficient electricity sources to meet the basic needs of households.

“Energy insecurity was a problem my family frequently brought to my attention growing up as they had faced it in their own home countries,” said Kutkut. “I was fortunate enough to find a group of like-minded students my junior year to work on projects tackling this issue.”

Student stands in front of project poster and explains findings to an expo attendee.
Mody Kutkut (at left) shares final project outcomes during a poster presentation to a Calhoun Honors Discovery Program expo attendee. Photo by Chelsea Seeber for Virginia Tech.

As a senior, Kutkut participates in the transdisciplinary Enabling Energy team, which aims to help nonprofits address energy insecurity through data-driven decision-making insights. Kutkut and his teammates developed an interactive map that will allow local area nonprofits to identify communities and households that struggle with energy insecurity, so the organizations can target efforts in the places that need the most support.

“We were shocked to learn how many people suffer from energy insecurity right here in Southwest Virginia,” he said. “‘We also learned that nonprofits don’t always use statistical data to make decisions about providing resources for those who are struggling. This tool will take the burden of data analysis off the nonprofits, and, in turn, it’s going to help so many people.”

Likeminded connections, unwavering support

Helping families in Virginia Tech’s backyard isn’t the only thing that the College of Engineering senior is passionate about. During his junior year, Kutkut joined the Muslim Student Association (MSA) to find a sense of connection and belonging. 

“During COVID, I felt really isolated. I am sure a lot of other students did, too,” said Kutkut. “When we came back together for in-person classes during my junior year, I knew I wanted to connect with other people that I could relate to. MSA was that outlet for me.”

Muslim Association students pose in front of a backdrop with balloons during xxxxx event
Kutkut (fourth from left) poses with other members of the Muslim Student Association at the MSA "End of Year Banquet," which celebrates graduating seniors. Photo courtesy of Mody Kutkut.

After joining MSA, Kutkut discovered that many other Muslim students were searching for that sense of community and support and in MSA, they found a “home away from home,” he said. The organization arranged meals at sunset for students fasting the month of Ramadan, so those with family members halfway around the world did not have to eat alone during that spiritual season. 

“Ramadan comes once a year and is a very important time for Muslims as it teaches us to be more mindful of our blessings,” said Kutkut. “This mindset is something I take with me through the rest of the year and motivates me to work harder in everything that I do.”

MSA also organized weekly student-led talks. Students present on a topic connected to Islam that interests them. 

“This could be a talk on the value of gratitude, engaging in community service activities on campus, or being mindful of our words and actions,” said Kutkut. “These talks serve as beneficial reminders, and I really feel that they help me become a better version of myself.”

The journey doesn’t end here

Kutkut also served on the Undergraduate Student Senate as associate justice and has held internships with Boeing, the Bioelectromechanical Systems Laboratory at Virginia Tech, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus, and the University of Central Florida – just to name a few.

Mody stands in front of Boeing South Carolina Sign
Mody Kutkut stands outside Boeing's South Carolina factory, which produces the 787 Dreamliner. Photo courtesy of Mody Kutkut.

He’s made the most of every opportunity thrown his way and still managed to maintain a 3.98 GPA in one of the university’s most difficult programs. He attributes his drive and determination to his upbringing and his faith.

“My family’s struggles and plight have taught me not to take my blessings for granted, to be grateful to God, and to strive to do good by helping others in need,” he said. “As a Muslim, I am reminded that every difficulty we face is an opportunity to draw closer to God and to use our experiences to positively impact the world around us.”

Kutkut’s experiences at Virginia Tech have taught him that engineering is more than just designing products and structures. It is about finding solutions to real-world problems, improving people's lives, and making the world a better place.

“I believe that my blessings require me to work even harder to alleviate the stresses of those who grew up without many of the privileges I had,” said Kutkut. “I am grateful for the opportunities Virginia Tech has provided me, and I am excited to continue using my skills to serve others.”

The next step for this Virginia Tech grad might surprise you: He’s taking a year off. But not in the way you might think. 

“Eventually, I’d like to pursue a higher degree, but for the next year I’d really like to explore different interests and make an even bigger impact by volunteering in the community,” he said. I’ve worked with these organizations that help underserved populations as a student, but I really want to work with them on the front lines.” 

Spoken like a true Hokie. Even during a gap year, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) prevails. 

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