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NU-Q grads join Evanston peers

Ten come to Evanston from Doha for Commencement

NU-Q graduates

NU-Q graduating seniors, staff and exchange students. From left to right: Silma Suba, Erin Libby, Alya Al Harthy, Urooj Azmi, Syed Owais Ali, Alli Divine, Vibhav Gautham, Jemina Legaspi, James Copplestone Farmer and Shahnawaz Zali.


  • Four other students from NU-Q are spending the summer with Engage Chicago
  • Such experiences help bridge 7,000-mile gap between Chicago area and Doha
  • NU-Q Class of 2016 is largest class to date -- 41 students from 14 countries
  • Student Silma Suba: ‘Pursuing what I love, I'm making a difference in the world’

Ten graduating seniors from Northwestern University in Qatar joined their peers in Evanston for Northwestern’s 158th Annual Commencement this year, and four other NU-Q students will be working in Chicago doing immersive field studies this summer.

Coming to Northwestern University’s home base, the visiting graduates from its Qatar campus, represented a wide array of nationalities. They are part of the largest NU-Q class to date — 41 students from 14 countries comprising the Class of 2016, whose members received numerous honors during their formal commencement ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on May 1.

More than 7,000 miles separates Chicago and Doha, but the distance for NU-Q students increasingly has been bridged by visits, exchange programs and summer internships — so walking at commencement in Evanston has taken on deep meaning for many.

“Attending commencement in Evanston, this is the time I actually felt like I was graduating,” said Shahnawaz Zali, 23, from Lahore, Pakistan, a graduating NU-Q senior in communication who studied filmmaking on both campuses, attended film festivals in the U.S. and is aiming for a career in marketing and advertising.

“The graduation in Evanston was on my bucket list,” Zali explained. “I spent six or seven months over here as well, and in Ryan Field for commencement, we felt like we belonged here, because we had friends here. If you spend some time here, it’s like you belong here.”

Cultivating an experience, programs and academic standards on Northwestern’s Qatar campus that are comparable to those on the University’s Evanston and Chicago campuses has been an important goal for NU-Q, and students like Zali who took classes on both campuses feel they are well prepared for the work and challenges on all three campuses.

Counting the Class of 2016, NU-Q now has graduated a total of 181 students since its first graduating class in 2012. These students already are making their mark on the world, and many are pursuing careers in journalism, communications, public relations and other fields. Thirty-four percent of alumni from the first four classes have attended graduate schools that range from Oxford, Cambridge and Northwestern to Harvard, Cornell and the London School of Economics, among others.

“Attending the commencement ceremony in Evanston was an exhilarating experience to say the least. From being surrounded by a sea of purple to hearing Seth Meyers’ address, everything about that day was heartwarming,” observed Silma Suba, 22, from Bangladesh, a graduating NU-Q senior in Journalism, who came to Evanston in 2014, like Zali, as part of NU-Q’s Evanston Ambassador program. She returned again last summer to work with Engage Chicago, a summer field study program for undergraduates through Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement to immerse them in learning about the city.

“But the most pivotal part of this experience was truly realizing just how fortunate and blessed I am to be graduating from Northwestern,” Suba added. “At NU-Q, we're constantly reminded that we don't just belong to a branch campus, we're a part of one Northwestern. It was at commencement here that the true meaning of those words sunk in. I really felt like I belong to something that's so much bigger and better than I had comprehended -- and that there are thousands of Wildcat alums who are out there changing the world with their creative minds, and now I'm ready to be a part of them, too.”

This summer, Suba is working as a Resident Assistant with Engage Chicago, run by the Center for Civic Engagement at Northwestern. Once she’s back in Doha, she plans to start a job in August with a digital marketing agency there. Eventually, she expects to return to the U.S. and apply for the Master of Science in Journalism program at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, adding in an email exchange, “I'm up for wherever life wants to take me.”

“Attending commencement in Evanston was an extraordinary experience,” said Chantelle D’mello, 23, from India, a graduating NU-Q senior in journalism, who came to Evanston in 2015. “I wasn’t able to make it back to NU-Q for the graduation celebrations there, so attending the one at Evanston was very important for me. It was great to feel part of a larger community of change-makers and dreamers, and to feel the true essence of Northwestern spirit.

“It was also great to be recognized for our four years of hard work at both commencement and Medill convocation,” she added. “I loved the scale of the Northwestern commencement, but most of all, I loved seeing the thousands of family members, friends and well-wishers that had gathered to celebrate the auspicious day with the graduates. It was very emotional to see how many people it takes to raise and support us — and how often we don’t really acknowledge their contributions to our life.

“Of course, the highlight of commencement was Seth Meyers, who rocked his speech!”

D’mello, a world traveler, said much of her family lives in Goa, India now. She was born in Oman and grew up in Qatar, and she would like to work as a reporter and a photojournalist for a couple of years before considering master’s programs in either journalism or law.

Zali, Suba and D’mello all said they were grateful for the education they received at NU-Q and that it positioned them well for the next steps in their careers.

“I learned a lot from my classmates,” Zali said in an interview. “There are so many different nationalities at NU-Q, you end up meeting people from around the globe, and you learn about their cultures. You also learn how to communicate with people from different backgrounds.”

That will be important for his future, he noted, because he plans to work in advertising and marketing at the Qatar Foundation in Doha, and he hopes eventually to have business partners around the world. “So I took it as a great benefit to study in such a diverse environment,” he noted. 

“I've always been a curious child — curious about how things worked, why things happened and mostly how and why people behaved the way that they do,” Suba said. “At NU-Q, the best thing about my education was having a platform where I got to feed my curiosity and challenge myself constantly to look for stories in places and people that were at most times hesitant to open up to us. By reporting and writing in such a unique and diverse environment, NU-Q prepared me to navigate and get my story even in the most challenging situations.

“Moreover, by being a part of such a small campus, I got to interact on a more in-depth and personal level with the faculty, whose constant guidance led me to truly appreciate the love that I have for storytelling,” she observed. “What I've learned the most from my experience at NU-Q is to give my all to what I love, be it writing or filming or marketing. By pursuing what I love, I'm making a difference in the world in my own way, and that's very important for all of us to remember.”

Zali said he started out as a child actor in Pakistan, performing in his first film at the age of 12, a Hollywood movie called “Kashf: The Lifting the Veil,” about a man’s journey to Sufism.  However, he went to NU-Q to learn about the other side of the camera and make his own films. NU-Q provided the means to learn. He earned two $8,000 grants along the way and made one film about going to the moon and another about Islamic and religious extremism.

Zali said the second film won awards in two film festivals in Miami and Detroit and qualified for the Student Academy Awards this year. Called “100 Steps,” it was filmed in Qatar, directed by Zali and produced by his classmate Yazan Abu Ghaida, who also came for Evanston commencement this year. Zali came to Evanston to edit the film and finish it, working in the radio, television and film program in the School of Communication.

D’mello observed that “one of the most important things that NU-Q teaches you is to be proactive. Because the community is small and because Qatar is small, I think you get the opportunity to see and be part of a lot more change than you could at a larger place. I got multiple opportunities to report for local and international organizations, freelanced as a videographer and photographer, volunteered, helped on film sets and worked full-time, all while balancing coursework.

“I don't think I would have the inclination or the opportunity to be involved in so many projects had it not been for NU-Q. We have wonderful professors who support us and provide us valuable feedback, and all we have to do is give it our best and keep their advice in mind,” she said.

D’mello cited several specific professors who she said have had “an immeasurable effect on my outlook on the world and my pursuit of the truth through words. Qatar also teaches you how to make the most of limitations -- how to report on sensitive issues, how to coax people to talk to you as a reporter, how to navigate a changing media landscape and how to deal with people from all strata of society.”

Four new NU-Q students are participating in Engage Chicago this summer: Maram Al-Qershi from Yeman, in communication, Class of 2018; Amal Ali from Jordan, in communication, Class of 2018, Jordan; Zaki Hussain from Singapore, in communication, Class of 2018, and Wajeeha Malik from Pakistan, in journalism, Class of 2017.

A number of NU-Q students participate in Engage Chicago each summer. Many of them were also Evanston Ambassadors, a program that students undertake when they are in Doha. They come to Evanston for a week at the end of their sophomore year, attend classes and campus activities, see a live show and meet with renowned studios and publication companies in the Chicago area, all while representing NU-Q. These exchanges also allow students to participate in many Northwestern traditions, like painting The Rock. They also shadow students, meet student organizations and visit different activities on campus.

A good number of the Qatar campus students who come as ambassadors return to Evanston as exchange students.

In addition to Zali, Suba and D’mello, seven other NU-Q graduating seniors came to commencement in Evanston this year — many of whom were Evanston Ambassadors or did internships, exchange study programs and traveled in the U.S. They are:

  • Yazan Abu Ghaida from Palestine, communication
  • Youmna Al-Gailey from Sudan, journalism
  • Alya Al-Harthy from Oman, communication
  • Owais Ali from Pakistan, communication
  • Alanood Al Thani from Qatar, journalism
  • James Copplestone Farmer from the U.K., communication
  • Paulo Fugen from the Philippines, journalism
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