Special Feature: inaugural commencement in doha

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NU-Q Seniors

Sketches of four members of the inaugural graduating class in Doha

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May 7, 2012

Benazir al-Munir Karim, Tanzanian

THE BIG PICTURE: Valedictorian. Student orientation leader. From Tanzania. Interned at AOL in New York City as a production assistant and produced her own video. Interested in both print and multimedia. Undergraduate Research Project (UREP) funded by the Qatar National Research Fund. Worked with a team of students and a mentor at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar to write, design and publish a book titled “Before the Hospital: Qatar and the Tradition of Healing.” The purpose of this research project was to explore, determine and document how people dealt with illnesses and health problems in Qatar before the establishment of the first hospital. Reporter and writer for The DailyQ. Community Developed Advisor (CDA) for the Sustainable Living and Learning Community residence halls on campus through the Qatar Foundation Housing and Residence Life. Also a Sustainable Living Ambassador who organized campus-wide “Recyclemania” competition and Energy Conservation Campaign. Vice president of academics for NU-Q Student Government. Student admissions ambassador for NU-Q. Volunteer for Reach Out to Asia, participated in several fundraising campaigns whose proceeds were used to support education and development in war- or disaster-struck countries. As a volunteer at the Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Tanzania in summer of 2009, organized educational and recreational activities for the orphans and the elderly.

IN HER OWN WORDS: "I did the premed program at Weill Cornell Medical College and, after two years of premed, I heard Northwestern University was opening. When I finished the premed program, I started wondering: Do I really want to apply to med school? I discovered my interests lie more in writing and doing things outside the classroom than in doing science and memorizing textbooks. I loved the practical part of journalism and writing and telling stories. I thought journalism sounded good, and I decided to apply to NU-Q. When I first started at Northwestern, I felt I had strong writing skills. I enjoy writing. I always thought I’d go into the writing aspect of journalism, but, once I took multimedia and broadcast production, I realized I was more interested in broadcast production, television and video.”

TAKING IT TO THE STREETS: "It was amazing. The fact that our faculty comes straight from the main campus is important. NU-Q started off small, but the faculty they brought was so amazing that we never felt we were lacking the kind of instruction we would have gotten if we’d gone to the main campus. We were exposed to so much doing journalism -- rather than just learning journalism. We took so many classes where we were told to go out on the streets and report stories. All those experiences and all those challenges they put us through shaped us and helped us learn how journalism is done, rather than being just lectured in the classroom.”

OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES: “I don’t wear an abaya, but I’m Muslim. In general, reporting is a challenge in Doha, for sure, whether you’re a woman or not. There are certain barriers especially when you don’t speak the language, also with the type of traditional culture, it’s hard to get people to accept the work you’re doing. And people are just not used to random people coming up to you on the street to do an interview. Let alone to be interviewed on camera or appear in a video. That’s difficult, but I realized, over time, that people were starting to accept that more. It’s difficult, especially, to do this as a woman. As a woman, I did not let that get in the way of anything. I had a mindset that I have to go out and do it as a journalist, and I did.”

WHAT'S NEXT: “It’s a little scary. Will we all get a job? And what’s the future for us? You also feel sad because we’re all part of the same small community now -- the students, the faculty and your dean. Everyone is so close, you feel sad that you have to leave your entire family you’ve been with for three or four years. It’s a lot of mixed emotions.

“We’re excited to be stepping out in the world, but I’ll miss all my friends. I’ll miss all the things we got to do together, whether traveling or field reporting trips. We’ve gone to work with the UN in Geneva, and we did residencies outside of Doha, and there were so many leadership trips and service learning trips. Those trips really were the times when the class would come together, when you all got to know each other better. It was the entire experience of getting to know so many different people -- and maybe some you might never have gotten to know.”

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Omer Mohammad, Canadian-Pakastani

THE BIG PICTURE: Student Government president. Grew up in Doha and Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. As SG president, he said, “We’ve tried to create a community of informed individuals who positively impact each others’ lives and make sure everyone is included in the community.” At NU-Q, he was a founder of the B&B Syndicate, which does marketing and organizing for Education City events. Worked on multimedia for “The Doha Debates,” an innovative, Qatar Foundation-sponsored monthly TV program televised on BBC World News showing debates in Qatar on controversial issues. Helped found the NU-Q Film Society, modeled on Block Cinema. Spent a semester abroad in Evanston for two quarters of study, including cinematography and film projects. In an NU-Q writing workshop, wrote a script for a play called “Another Possibility” that dealt with issues surrounding the Arab awakening spreading across the Mideast. It will be performed in Evanston when the NU-Q students visit in June. Interested in finding work in Qatar in film, art, videography, photography and documentary in the fields of media, public relations, art or museums. Hopes to find a job that will use his artistic skills, tell stories about the region and its people and make life richer.

IN HIS OWN WORDS: “As the first class, you’re the pioneers. You’re the first. You’re blazing the trail for years to come for those who come after you. When we were freshmen, we were kind of overwhelmed by all that, at first. Here we were at NU-Q. We looked around, and ‘Oh, my God,’ we were thinking that there were no courses, there were no buildings, there was barely a university here. That attitude about us being pioneers, well it’s true for most of us. We’ve always taken the first step in so many things.”

FORGING THE TRAIL: “We’ve gone to other countries to shoot videos and documentaries. When we did all that, we didn’t even know it was possible. But we did it, and now everyone who comes after us knows they can do it, because we did. The same thing goes for finding work. That we are getting jobs means others will. We are forging the trail for everyone who follows. No one knew it was possible before. Even school traditions, we had to bring them here. We didn’t have rocks to paint so we brought rocks. We can do purple, and we can sing the fight songs and all these things that were Northwestern University traditions. Those things didn’t really mean anything here at first, but we figured out how to adapt those to Qatar, and those things allowed me -- and all of us -- to forge an identity. Because of that, we have become leaders in all those things. This is really what a startup looks like.”

WILDCATS LEAVING HOME: “It’s a big part of my identity. Since freshman year, we’ve had this identity drilled into us. We’re Wildcats and part of the bigger world of Northwestern. So it kind of feels bittersweet. On the one hand, I’m going out into the world, and I can call myself a graduate of Northwestern -- one of the finest schools in the world -- and that’s a really big deal to me. At the same time, you’re also leaving the place you called home for so many years.”

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Sara al Saadi, Qatari

THE BIG PICTURE: President of Student Government for two years, where she was responsible for Go Wild spirit week and the Media Awards. Won the Outstanding Student Leader Award at NU-Q. Completed a semester abroad program at Harvard University, where she studied Islamic legal studies. Nominated for the Education City Presidents Award. Worked at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Qatar and Qatar Regional Conference on the International Criminal Court. Interned with ExxonMobil Qatar in the Government and Public Affairs Department. Interned at Al-Jazeera English. Studied role of media and communication in the rise of the Arab Spring. At Harvard, she examined the shifting Arab perspective on the International Criminal Court, focusing on four main points: the adaptability of Shari’a law to the Rome Statute; how domestic law has created a barrier to the adoption of the ICC; the extreme wariness about the role of the Security Council; and the influence of the United States on the Arab states. Later this month, she will present a paper at the First Undergraduate Conference on Middle Eastern Studies at Georgetown University. What’s next? She is looking into media-related jobs and contemplating graduate school in international relations and law.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “I grew up in Qatar. I was always part of the Qatar Foundation. I went to school here. I was very familiar with what was going on around me -- and the universities that came and were opening up. I got interested in NU-Q when Professor Susan Dun came to our school. She was talking about communications and media in our region. This was very new, and it sounded interesting. So that was perfect for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I thought these fields would allow me to explore many different things for a career. You’re not limited to just business or something like that. I got to do a variety of things. I took journalism and public relations classes, media and film production. Overall it helped me to become very open to many things and well rounded. Of course, I really like Northwestern also for the social life and events. I don’t feel I would have gained this experience anywhere else in the world.”

BUILDING NEW TRADITIONS: “We had to establish a lot of things here for the first time. We had to establish the student government and all the student clubs. It pushed us to become the leaders in our community. We had no upperclassmen, so we had to do it ourselves. It pushed us to work harder to start things. We had to build up a lot of the traditions here. I actually learned a lot doing that. I like the “Go Wild Week” spirit week. As part of Student Government, we created this week of events in which we tried to bring the community together to work on different events throughout the week. One day we worked the OhSnap photography group to put on an exhibition. We had a faculty and student basketball game. That was a lot of fun. People really enjoyed that. There were different events each year. We even had a formal gala dinner at the end.

“Everyone worked together, and we were all wearing purple -- and this helped re-emphasize the Northwestern spirit.”

SUCH A SPECIAL PLACE: “In the beginning it was a little scary. You go into NU-Q, and you don’t know what to expect with this new campus. You think this is sort of a risky thing to do. But very quickly I realized it would be an amazing experience. It is such a special place. We knew all of our professors personally, and it also helped us learn more from them. I really liked the one-on-one interaction with the professors and the staff. They knew us and pushed us to work harder. Being part of a small community helped me to get to know all of my class members and develop strong friendships and revelations. They are an amazing class, and I am sure that every one of them will be achieving great things in the future.”

- See CNN video of Sara al Saadi describing her documentary on education reforms in Qatar.

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Zainab Sultan, Indian

THE BIG PICTURE: Zainab Sultan is changing the face of media in the Middle East. Sultan, who grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, finished premed studies at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar but transferred to Northwestern University in Qatar when the school opened in 2008. The award-winning documentarian reported in Sri Lanka on domestic worker abuse in the Gulf region, at the United Nations in Geneva on labor trafficking in the Middle East and in Ethiopia on the issue of maternal health. She interned at Al Jazeera English in Washington, D.C., and Doha, where she worked on long-form documentaries and the current affairs show Fault Lines. She was also editor of Qataraccidents.org, a student-created website on traffic safety in Qatar, where auto accidents are the leading cause of death. Sultan hopes to continue making documentaries and to one day teach journalism as a college professor.

IN HER OWN WORDS: “Being a journalist is tough in Doha and in this part of the world, especially if you are applying U.S. journalistic principles. There are no clear, defined rules, so you have to play it safe and smart to see what’s acceptable and what’s not.

“Sometimes I wrote about things the local media would never touch -- sensitive topics like social discrimination based on economic class. I created a video package on cousin marriages in Qatar three years ago, and just now the BBC World News’ Doha Debates hosted a public debate to determine whether marriage between close families should be discouraged.

“You have to really invest time to learn about a culture before you write about it. There are so many stories that define the lives of the people here and what’s going to come in the future. At NU-Q you get an opportunity to go out and find stories and do them in a fearless and transparent manner. At the end of the day, we, as journalists, are not disrespecting culture. We are here to highlight uniqueness.”

A DREAM COME TRUE: “I wanted to pursue my dream of getting a world-class education, but it always seemed so far-fetched because Saudi Arabia did not offer those opportunities back then. But my family has always supported me in every way. After I spent my journalism residency in D.C., I realized I became a global citizen. I can be independent and pursue stories fearlessly and do things that matter to me.”

- Profiles written by Storer H. Rowley and Sean Hargadon