Congratulating This Year's Graduating Seniors

We’re pleased to congratulate 20 graduating seniors in the Diana Kamal Scholarship Search Fund (DKSSF), Hope Fund, and David Mize Scholarship programs. They are an impressive group, as their stories will tell you.


DKSSF Graduates

For Rasha Younes, poetry and writing emerged from an urgency to process her early life experiences. After losing her mother to cancer at the vulnerable age of 10, Rasha and her older sisters were left to survive an absent father and merciless poverty. Following in the footsteps of her sisters, who believed that nothing could stand in the way of their education, Rasha developed resilience and an independence that helped her secure scholarships for high school and college, as well as provide for herself financially and emotionally. A natural leader, the Lebanese native graduated this May from highly regarded Bryn Mawr College with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and psychology and a minor in creative writing. While a student, she secured funded internships every summer and immersed herself in leadership positions on campus, while managing five different jobs to help support herself financially. A summer internship in Morocco was pivotal, enabling her to adapt to Moroccan culture and become familiar with the world of poetry as collective empowerment. Now graduated, Rasha will travel the world as a Watson Fellow, a prestigious and competitive grant that will allow her 12 months of independent travel to pursue her passion for poetry and oral traditions. Eyeing the future, Rasha plans to pursue a Ph.D. in political anthropology and a career in academia.

"I wouldn't be the person I am if it hadn't been for the DKSSF.It was absolutely a stepping stone, and to this day I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t had the encouragement and help of my AMIDEAST adviser.” -- Rani Banjarian, DKSSF scholar from Lebanon

As a high schooler in Beirut, Rani Banjarian participated in the Model U.N. and the Student Life Organization. He was also selected to be a Lebanese cultural ambassador to Children International Summer Villages, an organization for youth that promotes peace through education and cross-cultural friendship. After graduating high school, Rani took his talents to Vanderbilt University (VU), in Tennessee, where he double-majored in physics and creative writing, achieving well-earned distinctions. His original story, “Lullabies in Arabic,” won Dell Magazine’s Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, and is set to be published in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. He used as inspiration for his short story his own personal experiences, such as living through Israel’s bombing of Beirut in 2006. As evidence of his multiple talents, he earned a spot in the Melodores, an all-male a cappella ensemble at VU that has performed around the United States, including at the White House for President Obama. In his first job after graduation, teaching fifth-grade mathematics in a Nashville charter school, he is discovering that his “love and capacity for storytelling” is helping him to be a more effective teacher, while the experience of working with the school’s many underserved children is deepening his understanding of America. Eventually he plans to complete his Ph.D. in physics.  Looking back, Rani expresses gratitude for AMIDEAST’s DKSSF program and the opportunities that it made possible: “I wouldn’t be the person I am if it hadn’t been for the DKSSF.  It was absolutely a stepping stone, and to this day I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t had the encouragement and help of my AMIDEAST adviser.”

Rostom Mbarek graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics and German Literary Studies with Honors and will begin his Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of Chicago this fall.  As an incoming freshman, Rostom had planned to study politics and economics, a decision that was influenced by his selection to be the youngest regional observer for the recent elections in Tunisia. But, as he noted following his graduation, his college experience changed him: “I look at the world in a completely different way.”  Physics research was the “highlight” and he also took advantage of a summer internship in China that included a side trip to Tibet.  Rostom writes that the DKSSF changed his life: “The DKSSF enabled me to apply to Grinnell and obtain the education I have always dreamt of.” Asked how heow would like to give back, he responded: “I would like to come back and teach at a university in Tunisia after obtaining my Ph.D."

"I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the DKSSF," Abdullah Shuhadeh asserts, observing that, as a Jordanian national residing in Bahrain, "it would have been very hard for me to get a scholarship or funding for college studies in Jordan or Bahrain." Abdullah was speaking in May, following his graduation from Concordia College, where he majored in engineering and took advantage of a variety of extracurricular opportunities, including the math and philosophy clubs and the college’s debate team — an experience that he valued for allowing him to travel all over the U.S. and meet many people. Despite Concordia’s small size, he was also able to mix with individuals from around the world, gaining firsthand perspectives that he knows will be important to his future. Abdullah is excited to apply the skills he learned in physics to the technology field during his first job, working as a tech analyst for Atos, a large IT solutions company. Longer term, he hopes to start work a master’s degree in computer science and computer methods and eventually have a career in IT and software development. Expressing his gratitude for the DKSSF, he adds,“I know that I sincerely want one day to be able to give back to the community as much as you have given to me.”  There is perhaps no better reward for a scholarship program than that!


DKSSF/Hope Fund

"I learned that the sky is the limit and as long as you believe in yourself, nothing is impossible." -- Ghada Tafesh, DKSSF/Hope Fund scholar from Gaza

When Ghada Tafesh joined the English Access Microscholarship (Access) Program in 2010, little did she imagine how it would change her life. The determined teenager from Gaza thrived in the two-year program, which helped her qualify for the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program to spend a year of high school in Maryland. She returned home dreaming of continuing her studies in the United States. Assisted by the DKSSF, Ghada received a full scholarship to attend Wilson College, where she double-majored in biology and English and consistently made the dean’s list. She also participated in the highly selective NeXXt Scholars Program for outstanding young women in STEM and won the Robert Shannon McElwain Prize, awarded each year to Wilson’s top mathematics student. Ghada graduated magna cum laude this spring and has begun a master’s degree in English literature.  Summing up her experience, Ghada says, “I learned that the sky is the limit and as long as you believe in yourself, nothing is impossible. I want to make a difference by inspiring young Palestinians and encouraging them to develop the leadership skills I have gained as a Wilson student.”

Hadil Ayoub made the most of her opportunities during high school in Nablus by advancing through the Access, YES, and Abraham Lincoln Incentive Grant programs, before being matched with a full scholarship to Barnard College through AMIDEAST’s Diana Kamal Scholarship Search Fund (DKSSF). While at Barnard, the environmental science major participated in the U.S. Department of State’s NeXXt Scholars Program and actively pursued her research interest in the impact of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on groundwater quality. In addition to her scientific research, Hadil was active in campus groups focused on social justice and took advantage of the thriving arts scene in New York City. Her vision for her future includes furthering her education. “I would like to work and explore the different directions that I could take with a major as diverse in its applications as environmental science,” she said. “I hope that this experience would help prepare me for the next step, which is going to grad school for a Ph.D.”


Hope Fund

"I honestly cannot conceptualize how my life would be without the opportunity the Hope Fund has given me." -- Mohamed Abo Sakr, Hope Fund scholar from Lebanon

For Mohamed Abo Sakr, education represented a pathway out of the Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon, where he grew up—an escape, in his words, from the “misfortunes” and “feelings of alienation, hopelessness, and the plain lack of passion” that characterized life there. With the help of the Hope Fund, he received a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Along the way, he contributed to campus life by playing percussion in an Arabic music ensemble, joined Engineers Without Borders, and was on one of the winning teams in last year’s Penn YPrize competition. His outstanding academics opened doors to research opportunities, a summer internship in South Korea, and the scholarship now covering his studies for his master’s degree at UPenn. Mohammed envisions giving back to his community as a mentor, a reflection of his gratitude and appreciation for the life-changing opportunity he has received. “I honestly cannot conceptualize how my life would be without the opportunity the Hope Fund has given me,” he said.

Mohammad Abudayyeh has achieved significant and well-deserved success, taking full advantage of opportunities available through AMIDEAST. After excelling in the two-year Access Program and spending a year of high school in the United States on the YES Program, Mohammad received a full scholarship from Washington and Lee University in Virginia through the Hope Fund. He graduated this May with a degree in chemical engineering. Earlier this year the Physics and Engineering Department selected him for the 2016 H. Thomas Williams Jr. Undergraduate Research Scholarship, an annual award that recognizes excellence in faculty-directed research. 

After graduating from high school, Mahmoud Abu Eid was concerned about a future that offered little opportunity for a job or higher education for youth in the refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan, where he grew up. Not ready to give up, Mahmoud turned to where most young people look for information—the Internet. That is how he learned about the Hope Fund. Although the possibility of obtaining a full scholarship to study at a U.S. university seemed far-fetched, he completed his application and hoped for the best. Fast forward to 2016, and Mahmoud’s dream has come true: this spring he graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, with a triple major in biology, chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular biology. While at Gustavus, he engaged in research in his fields of study and was honored to present his study of cleft lip and palate care in the Middle East at a research symposium in fall 2015. Despite his significant accomplishments, Mahmoud knows that he has many goals yet in his life to pursue. “Thank you to the Hope Fund and for everyone who made a dream of mine come true,” he said. “The road is long and full of obstacles but I chose to fight and push through because I want to show everyone that I deserved this opportunity and worked hard for it.” 

When Ibrahim AbuNada arrived at Bridgewater College in Virginia, he was prepared to study medicine. His plans changed, however, as he discovered, with the help of his advisors and professors, his true passion—chemistry. Taking advantage of a college environment that encourages students to work one-on-one with their professors, Ibrahim excelled in his new program and graduated with a degree in chemistry in December 2015. In addition to his academic success, Ibrahim thrived in a diverse campus environment that allowed him to explore new experiences and broaden his perspective on life — participating, for example, in the student organization Comitatus, a German swordsmanship club. His time at Bridgewater complete, Ibrahim will now pursue a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ibrahim recognizes that the Hope Fund helped open the doors to new opportunities, and he is prepared to step through those doors to achieve his goals. “I will utilize everything I have towards changing my fate for the better,” he said, “because that is what the Hope Fund has done for me.”

West Bank native Shorouk Badir is developing herself into a leader and a role model in the STEM field. As a chemistry major at Bryn Mawr College, Shorouk conducted research into the total synthesis of the inhibitor molecules of IDO1, an enzyme with significant capabilities in immunotherapy treatments. She developed herself into a leader on campus and—of particular note—she founded the Voices for Palestine Club, where she hosted many events to raise awareness about Palestinian culture. But it was her experience as a Peer Lead Instructor (PLI)—tutoring students in chemistry for two years—that led Shorouk to discover her passion for teaching. She will now pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania as part of her journey into a career in academia. Through her profession, she hopes to inspire more people—especially women—to study chemistry and other STEM-related fields. 

Mahmoud El Hazzouri graduated from Roanoke College in Virginia with degrees in math and physics. He was very active on campus, participating in the physics and math clubs and the honor societies for both fields, as well as several other student groups focused on diversity and multiculturalism. Since graduating, he has returned home to Lebanon while making plans to return to the United States next year for graduate school. Mahmoud is excited to start the next chapter in his life, and is thankful to the Hope Fund for opening the doors to his education in the United States—an opportunity that allowed him to grow and create a bright future for himself. He stressed that, for many Palestinians, that is exactly what they need—opportunity. “Opportunities are the key to development,” he said, adding, “I truly find it inspiring to promote the idea that nothing is impossible, and that you can get wherever you want in life as long as you work hard and believe in yourself.” 

Shurouq Hijazi graduated from the University of Rochester (UR), in Upstate New York, with a degree in electrical and computer engineering and a minor in business. During her time at UR, Shurouq flourished academically, coauthoring a book chapter, publishing in two journals, and presenting one of her research projects at a conference. She also received the faculty award from UR’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Beyond academics, Shurouq valued UR’s vibrant campus life and participated in several student organizations and causes including the Student Association for the Development of Arab Cultural Awareness (SADACA), and even studied in Madrid, Spain, for a semester. “The eye-opening college experience I had has definitely shaped the person I am today,” Shurouq said. “The lessons I learned at UR will definitely have a lasting effect on my professional and personal career for years to come.” Now that she has graduated, she will begin her career as a technology consultant at Ernst & Young in New York City. Eyeing the future, she wants to effect positive change in Palestine in the areas of cyber security and education reform.

"I am proud to say that I was a Hope Fund student. I would like to be able to use my degree to benefit the general community in Lebanon as well by making it a better place."  -- Kamal Kaddoura, Hope Fund scholar from Lebanon

Kamal Kaddoura graduated from Bridgewater College in Virginia with a degree in physics and a minor in mathematics. In addition to his intellectual, ethical, and emotional development, Kamal valued the diverse opportunities encountered during his college experience—everything from meeting new friends and playing new sports to attending his first physics conference, and even presenting his honors project on several occasions. Kamal will begin a Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering next fall at one of several schools to which he has been accepted with funding offers. Although he is finding great individual success, Kamal also stressed the need to use his education, skills, and experiences to benefit his community. “I am proud to say that I was a Hope Fund student,” he said. “I would like to share my story and experience to encourage students to pursue a higher quality education. I would like to be able to use my degree to benefit the general community in Lebanon as well by making it a better place.”

Tala AlRaheb graduated from St. Olaf College, in Minnesota, with degrees in both psychology and religion. She is interested in the connections between the two fields, and in fact was able to explore these connections while at St. Olaf through a research project into the psychology of faith development. Tala was active on campus, serving as the president of the group Oles for Justice in Palestine, was a member of the Theology Club and the Interfaith Coalition, and was selected as an Admissions Fellow during her senior year. Through the admissions fellowship, she had the opportunity to speak with prospective students about her experience at St. Olaf. She also completed an internship in psychological counseling in her home town of Bethlehem. Tala will be attending Emory University to pursue a master’s degree in theological studies in the Candler School of Theology, and has plans to become a professor. With her knowledge and skills, Tala would like to improve the education system in Palestine.

Hope Fund student Iyyad Rayyan makes a habit of jumping at opportunities and maximizing his potential. The recent graduate from Grand View University (GVU), in Iowa, was a triple major in accounting, finance, and information systems management. In addition to his heavy course load, Iyyad completed seven different internships, was president of the Business Club, served as chief financial officer (CFO) for the GVU student body, and received numerous honors and awards. One of his internships was with the World Food Prize Foundation, an experience that opened his eyes to the millions of people across the globe who suffer from poverty and malnutrition. “[…] Sometimes we get so hung up in our own lives,” Iyyad said, “and forget about the suffering that millions of people around the world have to face on a daily basis.” With his graduation, Iyyad will remain in Des Moines, Iowa, as an associate with PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC), a prestigious multinational firm specializing in financial and professional services.

As a Palestinian refugee growing up in Amman, Jordan, Mohammad Sarhan came from very humble means. Although his family didn’t have much money, Mohammad made his education a top priority and in 2008, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the King’s Academy high school in Jordan. After graduating, he earned a full scholarship to attend the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he recently completed his degree in international relations with a minor in economics. The highlight of his college career was a senior thesis project—for which he received the "honors" distinction—in which he investigated the relationship between refugee economic rights and conflict spillovers. While at Wooster, he furthered his academic and professional interests by becoming an international student ambassador and serving as vice president of the college’s Model United Nations team. He has completed several internships, including as a fellow at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) in Washington, DC. His academic work has helped him to develop the knowledge and tools necessary to bring about positive change in his community and wider Palestinian society. Mohammad hopes to acquire a Ph.D. in international relations.

“The Hope Fund was a turning point in my life,” says Nisreen Zaqout, a refugee from Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip. She embraced the opportunity provided by The Hope Fund and graduated from Illinois College with a bachelor’s degree in political science, economics, and gender and women’s studies. Coming from a big family, it is perhaps no surprise that Nisreen also became interested in debate, honing her skills as a member of Illinois College’s official debate team. She also furthered her interest in gender studies through an internship last summer with Vital Voices Global Partnership, a Washington, DC-based NGO that works to train and develop emerging women leaders across the world. Having found great success in her undergraduate studies, Nisreen plans to go to graduate school with an eye toward a career focusing on women’s empowerment in the Middle East.


David Mize Scholarship

Adham El-Batal from Alexandria, Egypt, completed his Bachelor of Science in Physics with a focus on astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Michigan, thanks to a Mize Scholarship that covered the cost of his undergraduate studies at this leading research university. In addition to graduating with a 3.56 GPA and highest honors, Adham interned at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, as part of a critical team that calibrated instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope. He also worked closely with Professor Jon Miller in the Department of Astronomy, supporting his research on black hole feedback.  Most recently, Adham completed a research study that used the NuSTAR telescope to measure the spin of a black hole near the Milky Way; the study was published in the peer-reviewed publication, The Astrophysical Journal Letters. This fall, Adham begins a five-year MSc-Phd Program in astrophysics at Boston University, a program that will bring him closer to his ultimate dream of becoming a professor in astrophysics and continuing to devote his life to research and teaching.