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Graham Cornwell started his MA at the Elliott School after three years working in government affairs in the healthcare industry, looking to change fields to pursue his real passion: Middle East Studies. He arrived with one eye on future doctoral study and found terrific mentors in Professors Mona Atia (GEOG) and Shira Robinson (HIST). Cornwell's capstone project examined the spatial politics of Tamazight (Berber) language movements in Morocco and was eventually published in Social and Cultural Geography, co-authored by Professor Atia. While at GW, he served as a contributing editor at the Journal of Public and International Affairs and worked on curriculum and assessment in the Elliott School's Office of Academic Programs. After completing his MA, Graham went on to earn his PhD in Middle East History from Georgetown University. His dissertation research took him to a range of archives in Morocco, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Supported by grants from Fulbright-Hays and the American Institute of Maghrib Studies, his project examined the social and cultural history of tea and sugar consumption in Morocco in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During his PhD work, he helped to run the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), an undergraduate educational exchange funded by the US Embassy in Baghdad. In 2017-18, Graham was a Visiting Researcher at the Centre de Recherches en Histoire Internationale et Atlantique at the Université de Nantes and an ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellow before contributing to USIP's Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States as a research consultant. He came full circle back to 1957 E Street in October when he joined the Elliott School as Assistant Dean of Research.

What advice would you give new students?

I think it's really important to take a good mixture of 'academic' and policy or practice-oriented courses. Elliott School faculty are world-class scholars with a wealth of incredible experiences across the region. The humanities and social science courses they teach provide in-depth knowledge about the cultures and societies of the Middle East that forms the foundation of smart and sustainable policies. I also encourage students to take courses that train you in the methodologies of certain disciplines. Obviously, I'm a bit biased because I became a historian, but as an MA student, I used one of my electives to take a course from the History Department on historical methods and archives. It was incredibly useful for teaching me to research and write for other courses, too. Likewise, anthropology courses can teach you how to conduct fieldwork, geography courses how to use GIS, political science courses how to create surveys, etc. These are useful skills that will come in handy down the road. I would also add that two years goes by very quickly, especially if you spend a semester abroad and work or intern during your coursework. By halfway through that first fall semester, you have to start making plans for the next summer, which can be daunting. Don't hesitate to meet with faculty you're interested in working with or to get involved in groups campus. GW has a lot of resources, but you have to put in the effort to make the most out of them.

Jessica Eldosoky graduated from the Elliott School's MA in Middle East Studies program in 2013. Currently, Jessica is a Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO) at the Department of State. She works with U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East to develop public diplomacy programs and products to explain American culture, society, and foreign policy to regional audiences. During her studies at GW, she had internships at non-profits focused on interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution as well as the Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom. Eldosoky received the Boren National Security Fellowship to study Arabic in Cairo, Egypt in 2012. She also received the Elliott School's Aramex Fellowship in 2013 to intern in a non-profit focused on promoting co-existence among Christians and Muslims in Amman, Jordan. After graduating from GW, Eldosoky worked at American Islamic Congress, a DC-based non-profit that advocates positive relations between Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. 

What do you know now that you wish you had known as a new student?

I wish I had known that developing a technical skill is just as important as developing a deep knowledge of the region. I encourage students to take advantage of their elective courses by delving deeply into other disciplines that augment their ability to get a job, such as communications, cybersecurity, or conflict resolution.

What have you been up to since graduation?

Right now, I am completing my Master’s in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, during a sabbatical year on the Boren National Security Fellowship in Oman. Before my MA, I was a Program Coordinator at the Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo and a Fulbright Research Fellow with the National Democratic Institute field office in Jordan. At GW, I majored in Middle Eastern Studies and minored in Religion.

 

What professor or class stands out in your memory of the program?

Three professors really stand out to me in my memories of the Middle Eastern Studies program. The first is Nathan Brown who was my advisor for my Elliott Undergraduate Scholars thesis. I had spent one semester in Cairo doing interviews in the fall of 2010, and when I returned in January 2011, of course everything in Egypt had massively changed. I remember I would come to Professor Brown's office full of anxiety about how I was going to track all the moving pieces of the revolution and turn them into an academic paper. He was extremely supportive and has been to this day. The second professor I remember is Charles Kiamie* who taught a seminar on the Middle East, which was infused with practical expertise from his years working in the U.S. government. Finally, Jennifer Lambert empowered me to TA for her course International Relations of MENA during my senior year, and she has been empowering me to achieve my aspirations of being a smart, competent authority in the field ever since.

(*Charles Kiamie is also a Middle East Studies alumnus, BA ‘00.)

 

How do you think alumni can be a resource for current students?

We are only a cold email away. If you are a student and you find someone whose experience interests you, don't second guess yourself, just reach out!

After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2013 with an interdisciplinaryAlumna Priya Vithani major in “Human Rights in the Middle East,” Priya came to GW to research the connections between entrepreneurship and democratic development in the Middle East. She was a recipient of the Aramex fellowship in 2014, where she worked with a social startup in Jordan. She also traveled to Cairo, where she researched the sociopolitical dynamics of entrepreneurs in Egypt for her capstone project. While at GW part-time, Priya worked as a full-time desk officer at the U.S. Department of State, covering the North Africa portfolio as a policy officer for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Priya also briefly served as the U.S. liaison to the UN Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures processes in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and on a short rotation as the human rights officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Following graduation from GW, Priya left the Department in 2017 for a fellowship with Kiva Microfinance, which took her to Lebanon, Morocco, and Jordan over an eight-month period. Priya is currently a Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Group on the Innovation in SMEs project, a first-of-its-kind project in the region that supports entrepreneurs and investment funds in Lebanon. She lives in Beirut, Lebanon.

 

What advice would you give to new students?

If you’re new, welcome to the program and congratulations! My advice is this: the program, while excellent, isn’t cheap, so you might as well make the absolute most of it. Take advantage of the Elliott School’s and the program’s many scholarships and programs to pay for school and go abroad. In total, I was able to recover about half of my tuition costs through these fellowships. Leverage the fact that you are studying in DC to do an internship or find meaningful work alongside the program, even if it means switching to part-time or taking a lighter load one semester. This will put you miles ahead of other graduate students, give you a source of income, and you’ll be able to add a degree of practicality to your academic work. Being in DC, you are surrounded by hundreds of think tanks, NGOs, and academic events or conferences. Go to as many of these as you can, ask questions, and talk to people there (network genuinely). Don’t be afraid to ask and make the program work for you. If you can’t find something that you feel would make your experience better or help you academically or professionally, talk to the IMES staff and propose ideas. The worst thing you can do is nothing at all. And lastly, don’t underestimate the interconnectivity of the field that is Middle East Studies! The people you meet and study with could just one day end up being your future coworkers or even supervisors. (My former boss at the Department of State is an alumnus of the program, and sometimes I even had to email professors in the program for work-related issues!). The field is a revolving door, and your professional reputation can carry you a long way. I hope it does. Best of luck!

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