When Eli Bosnoyan first set foot on the USC campus, he was a six-year-old boy from Aleppo, Syria, visiting relatives in Los Angeles during his summer vacation.

“I was with my brother,” said Bosnoyan, who is now graduating from the Master of Science Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at USC. “We went to UCLA first, and my brother liked it. Then we went to USC — I loved it. I was hooked on the idea of it all, seeing Tommy Trojan.”

Back home in Aleppo, Bosnoyan proudly wore his cardinal and gold sweatshirts, and assured his friends that USC was the alma mater of all of their favorite actors, astronauts and athletes.

Everything began to change in 2011, when protests broke out against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. While Syrian news outlets downplayed the violence, Bosnoyan’s uncle in the United States warned of the increasing danger: “My mom’s brother called my dad, and said, ‘I don’t think a lot of things are going well in Aleppo. Send both of your sons.’ ” Instead, Bosnoyan’s parents sent only their eldest, who was 17 and at the greatest risk of being drafted. Even so, he had no plans of becoming a Trojan himself, and intended to follow his father and grandfather into the family business, a well-known Syrian lingerie company.

“I was still 15, and I was just living my life,” Bosnoyan said.

At the time, he was a student at an international high school near Aleppo, where courses were conducted in English. Halfway through his 10th grade year, the school announced that it would conclude its academic instruction in March 2012, because most of the foreign-born teachers had begun fleeing the country.

Bosnoyan received his draft notice shortly before boarding a plane to attend his brother’s high school graduation in Los Angeles. The situation in Syria quickly escalated into civil war, and Bosnoyan and his family were never able to return to their home.

“I packed one suitcase,” said Bosnoyan, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Syria who was born in Los Angeles. “I didn’t say goodbye to my friends. Since they didn’t have dual citizenship, they’re either in Jordan or Lebanon, which are the two neighboring countries. And there are some in Egypt as well.”

Despite this tough transition, after graduating from high school and completing one semester at Moorpark Community College, he achieved his dream of becoming an undergraduate at USC, where he found a sense of belonging as a member of the Trojan Family. Bosnoyan found himself grappling with both survivor’s guilt and culture shock as he entered 11th grade at an Armenian high school in Canoga Park.

“Once I got into USC, I met with people from different parts of the world,” he said. “I eventually met a friend that was in my brother’s class back when we were in grade school in Syria — and we met at USC. And I practiced my Arabic, because there are a lot of Arabic-speaking students at USC. USC was great.”

Bosnoyan double-majored in health and human science and chemistry, pursued research about the effect of gut microbiota on alcohol consumption, and worked part-time as a pharmacy technician at CVS. He also found time to learn drumming and to perform standup comedy at the Ice House in Pasadena.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2018, Bosnoyan became a medical scribe in the orthopaedic department at UCLA-Santa Monica. When the pandemic hit in 2020, patients began deferring surgeries and requesting alternative treatments, including shots of cortisone, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), and stem cells.“A lot of people in their senior year, they tend to be done with it, and can’t wait to get into the real world,” Bosnoyan said. “I was crying at graduation, because I didn’t want it to end.”

“I didn’t know what stem cells were,” Bosnoyan said. “And one physician that I talked to said, ‘This is going to be the future. It’s going to change this whole aspect of health care.’ ”

Intrigued, Bosnoyan applied to the Master of Science Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and was awarded a Cardinal and Dhablania-Kim Fellowship in support of his studies. After a year of remote course work, he’s looking forward to graduating this spring and then gaining hands-on research skills in the laboratory of Francesca Mariani, PhD, who studies skeletal development and repair at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

Long-term, his goal is to pursue an MD or MD/PhD degree with a specialty in sports medicine.

“I just like the idea of helping out, and I think that comes with the situation, with Syria,” he said. “We lacked a lot of resources over there: physicians, fire departments, ambulances. So I’ve set my mind that I want to help in any way possible with regards to health.”

— Cristy Lytal