Hotel rooms have been booked by visiting friends and families, celebratory dinner plans at the best restaurants in town have been made, and the temperature is rising. That can only mean one thing: it’s graduation season in Doha, when hundreds of the best and brightest in Qatar will be walking in commencement exercises to receive their diplomas, their ticket to a better and brighter future.
On Thursday 7 May 2015, 19 men and 38 women will be receiving their diplomas from Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q). Twenty two of them are Qatari students, and Talal Al Nama, a senior majoring in International Politics, is one of them. His journey to Georgetown began in his childhood, right here in Doha. He said:
Forced to listen to Aljazeera on the radio every time my dad picked me up from school, I hated the news. But then slowly I matured and began to understand about the events happening in the Middle East, and about the injustice happening throughout the world.’
That realisation drew him to an interest in studying politics. So after a stint at Georgetown Pre-College Summer (GPS), an inclusive preparatory program for local high school students in Qatar, Talal made the decision to enroll. ‘I thought we’d only study politics, but it’s not really just about politics,’ he discovered. ‘You have to understand history, theology, economics – I didn’t realise how important these other courses were to understanding politics.’ He studied a month abroad at Georgetown in Washington DC, played on the GU-Q basketball team, took part in Student Government Assembly, and was a member of the university’s Human Rights Club. After graduation, he hopes to work in the government sector in Doha. ‘Keep an open mind and push yourself. You’re getting a quality education,’ he advises incoming freshmen. ‘You don’t know how much it’s worth until after you graduate.’
International Politics is also the major of graduating Qatari student Maram Al Dafa, who spent the majority of her life abroad since her father is a Qatari diplomat and served as ambassador of Qatar to a number of countries. Politics for her is a family affair. But at Georgetown, she forged her own unique path. She said:
I didn’t imagine myself doing anything other than politics. So I applied at several prestigious international universities. When I weighed my options, I decided to stay here in Doha. My sister attended Georgetown main campus, and I knew I’d get the same great education here, but with the added benefit of being near home, with smaller classes and more attention from professors.’
Her love of the Model United Nations, a program where students re-enact the workings of the UN, started in middle school, and continued consistently through college, where she served as Secretary General of their MUN board. She also volunteered for the successful annual Breast Cancer Awareness Fundraiser run by students of the university’s Women’s Society and Development Club, which raised over QR172,000.
Palestinian student Dima Wahbeh stepped out of her comfort zone when she left her family and friends in Bethlehem to attend her dream university: a prestigious American institution that wasn’t too far from home. ‘GU-Q was very different in that I was exposed to over 50 nationalities on campus, something that I don’t find back home. All of these nationalities in one place got along, unlike the situation back home, and that really surprised me,’ said the Culture and Politics major. She studied international affairs, focusing on culture and politics, and has plans to work in Ramallah with NGOs doing humanitarian work. ‘I want the work experience to identify my strengths and weaknesses before I pursue a Master’s degree, and help people while doing that.’
While pursuing her degree at GU-Q, Wahbeh volunteered for Students for Justice in Palestine, interning with Teach for Qatar, and taking part in two GU-Q community service trips that took her to Germany and Poland, and Northern Ireland, respectively, to study conflict resolution. But it’s in sports that she made her biggest mark. She was captain of the women’s basketball team in her sophomore, junior, and senior years. Her leadership was recognised with the MVP award from GU-Q three years in a row, Athlete of the Year award two years in a row, and the MVP of the League award from HBKU in her junior year.
Atul Menon grew up in Qatar, but almost missed out on attending an Education City university when he contemplated going to India for a commerce degree. ‘But my dad saw in the newspaper that a new major was being offered at GU-Q. He encouraged me to give it a shot.’ He did, and was accepted, majoring in his favorite subject: International Economics. Once enrolled, Georgetown introduced him to topics of social justice. ‘Georgetown in Qatar offered me immense opportunities and support to work on issues that I was always deeply passionate about.’
He has interned at Silatech, taken several service learning trips around the world to study economic development, political transition, and migration, and was inducted into Alpha Sigma Nu honour society, a prestigious recognition of his academic excellence and service. One of the highlights of his undergraduate career is participating in an Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) student project at GU-Q titled ‘Financial Education for Transnational Families’, which produced several instructional video training modules geared towards giving migrant labourers practical advice on maximising their migrant work experience.
The project was the winner of the Student Poster Presentations Award, announced during Qatar Foundation’s Annual Research Conference (ARC’14). Atul was also named one of only three students worldwide to receive the prestigious Palmer Award in September 2013, given in collaboration with the US-based LeaderShape Institute. After graduation, Atul plans to pursue a Master’s at the School of Foreign Service on Georgetown’s main campus in Washington DC.
Many students begin college with a specific career path in mind, only to find those plans completely change with the introduction of new ideas. That’s exactly what happened to Haroon Yasin. After high school, he attended an engineering college in Dubai, but decided against engineering and left. ‘I decided to pursue a law degree, and came to Georgetown because of their reputation. I majored in International Politics as a pre-law degree. Now, my main passion is education.’ Once he found his passion, he began making some pretty remarkable achievements.
Haroon, along with two other GU-Q students, developed an innovative project to create a school in a slum village in Islamabad, Pakistan, where the curriculum and other school decisions are developed in cooperation with the village community. The Orenda Project, as it’s called, was inspired by a previous project Haroon developed – Akhuwat-e-Awam, a school that provided free education to impoverished children in Pakistan.
Currently offering a four-year liberal arts curriculum with majors in International Politics, International Economics, Culture & Politics, and the recently launched International History degree, GU-Q has seen steady annual increases in enrollment numbers. By the end of the 2015 academic year, 274 alumni will have graduated from GU-Q. And with a hunger to do more, their list of future achievements will no doubt be even longer.