The first batch of AUB students have graduated from a special US-funded liberal arts program that develops leadership skills and promotes cultural exchange.
Marah Aqueel and Hassan Daiq from Palestine and Alia Al-Zeiny from Egypt were honored at a reception as the first AUB graduates from the Tomorrow’s Leadership Scholarship Program, a US-State Department-funded Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), whose aim is "to nurture future leaders in the Arab World through a liberal arts education so they will become agents of change and reform in their society."
Established by AUB at the beginning of the 2007-08 academic year, the program includes enrollment in a four-year degree program of their choice and participation in leadership building seminars, teambuilding activities, internships and community service as well as one semester of study in the United States.
It fully covers tuition fees, accommodations, books, a laptop, insurance and a monthly stipend for each student.
“It’s a life-changing experience as they return to their countries equipped with new skills, and they will hopefully continue to use those skills for the benefit of their societies,” said Randa Antoun, program coordinator. “We are nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.”
There are currently 44 students enrolled in MEPI’s Tomorrow’s Leadership Scholarship Program from Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria and Syria.
“We’ve had the opportunity to witness their hard work and dedication, and I can say with confidence that the students have indeed enriched the community,” said AUB provost Ahmad Dallal in his congratulatory remarks during the June 26 ceremony for the graduates.
For their final project, the three students were required to write a “capstone” or pinnacle of achievement essay outlining a specific problem in their country and their solution for it, based on extensive research.
For his capstone essay, Hassan Daiq, who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with distinction, created an initiative which helps families to jumpstart their own business by providing the basic tools and skills necessary to make it a success.
“For example, if a family was good at fixing cars, I would provide them with the equipment, the space, workshops on basic leadership skills and soft accounting skills they would need to start the business,” Daiq told fellow students, families and members of the AUB community attending the reception at the Common Room in West Hall.
Daiq said the MEPI program prepared him to take a leadership role in his own family’s agriculture business in Palestine.
“First I’ll start with my family, then I can begin helping others,” he said.
Daiq said the program has taught him to broaden his horizons, and to think beyond his family or the neighborhood. “Now I think in a broader scope: How can I help my country as well as other countries in the Arab region?” he said.
Egyptian Alia Al-Zeiny, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political studies, said the program transformed her into a different person.
When she first arrived in Beirut, she felt “overwhelmed and different,” said Al-Zeiny. “Now…I’m more assertive, and I don’t hold back. If I want something, I’m going to get it.”
Al-Zeiny admitted that during her semester in the United States, she was faced with the challenge of how to fit in and be understood and accepted by her peers.
“I learned how to be independent and have become more in tune with my identity as a person and as a Muslim,” she says of her experience abroad. “I’ve become more aware of how to react to prejudice, and it made me a stronger person.”
When she returns home to Egypt, Al-Zeiny will begin her new job at the Library of Alexandria. But she foresees involving others in her community to work together for a better future.
“I want to be held up to that name, a MEPI leader of tomorrow, and make everyone proud, to get involved in my community to help facilitate change,” Al-Zeiny explains. “As an Arab, we have a role to do things for our region. This is just the beginning.”
The scholar’s mother also has confidence in her daughter’s ability to make a difference back in Egypt.
“I am very proud of my daughter and I have great expectations for her to do something for our country. said Rawia El Saadane. “I hope Alia helps Egyptian children (to) love education just as much as she does now.”
Marah Aqueel had been dreaming of coming to study at AUB ever since she first visited the campus while still in high school.
Now, looking back on the time spent at AUB as part of the MEPI Tomorrow’s Leadership Program, she says, “I grew so much during the four years here. I depend on myself and I am much more open-minded. The program taught me how to become a leader, how to present myself and now I know more about who I am.”
While her fellow graduates expressed sadness at leaving their “home” at AUB after four years, Aqueel will not be bidding farewell to the University just yet. As a recipient of a full graduate assistantship for a master’s degree in nutrition, she will return to AUB in the fall semester of 2012.
“She’s another person now. She’s more independent and has her own mind,” said her mother, Nuha Masri Aqeel. “Being here, I feel very proud of her, I think she’s lucky to have gotten such a good opportunity.”
Farea Al-Muslimi, who completes the MEPI Tomorrow’s Leadership Program in February 2013, said he already considers the graduates as “today’s leaders with tomorrow’s visions, ambitions and, more importantly, its challenges.”