Friday, March 24, 2017

Fulbright Alumnus Teaches High-Tech to Young Minds

Atheer and his team introduce students to robotics concepts

I started Kids and Codes in October 2015 as a voluntary initiative that was sponsored and funded by the Fulbright Alumni Community Action Grant. This grant allowed me to start a small workshop to teach kids about robots and the concepts of coding. Our mission is to promote the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields to children, and especially girls. Our first workshop was very humble, and the goal was to measure the learning process of children and understand how they will interact with robots. However, the early feedback from kids and parents was so positive that it pushed us to continue with the project and serve even more children. To date, my team of technology and engineering professionals has hosted ten workshops in different locations throughout Iraq.

The robot testing phase

Workshops begin with a short presentation on the history of robotics and then finish with hands-on robotics work. I have found that working with children is incredibly fun. I see them running around asking each other questions, and sometimes arguing. They ask my team many technological questions, some of which are tough to answer. For example, when I was explaining the surgical robot, Da Vinci, one of the students asked, “what if the robot breaks, who will take over while we have a patient under operation?” Unsurprisingly, we found that we need to prepare well for children’s workshops because they will ask questions that are debatable and deep. It’s best to be prepared!

Kids and Codes would not be possible without Fulbright. Apart from the financial support my team received, the very idea of Kids and Codes crystalized in my mind when I was in the States and had the opportunity to visit several organizations that run similar projects. We think that the Kids and Code’s mission is not only limited to teaching coding to children, but we also aim to introduce scientific concepts to the Millennial Generation by using out-of-the-box tools and methodologies. As a Fulbrighter, I studied engineering, so I always try to emphasize that field in our workshops. We are in the stage of finding a permanent place so that we can establish a science club in my city, which will probably the first of its kind in Iraq. Our long-term goal is to extend our activities beyond coding concepts to also cover subjects such as physics and biology.


The Kids and Codes project is now in its second year and has taught more than 100 Iraqi children the basics of coding. To learn more about this exciting project, and to remain up-to-date on the latest workshop news, visit the group’s Facebook page:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Engaging with Fellow Fulbright Alumni: My Experience at the Fulbright Alumni Regional Conference on Natural Resources

 Fulbright alumnus Abderrahmane before his presentation on the benefits of piezoelectricity, a clean way of generating electricity using mechanical pressure

Attending conferences has always provided me with new ideas and perspectives, but participating in the Fulbright Alumni Regional Conference on Natural Resources in Cairo, Egypt from December 4-6, 2016 was particularly beneficial. As a participant, I had the chance to network with an amazing group of Fulbright alumni who work in fields as diverse as meteorology, renewable energy and architecture. Conversing with these Fulbrighters and learning from their research was a wonderful personal and professional experience for me.
Nataly, another Fulbright alumna attending the conference, shares her research on fighting cancer using plant-based compounds

The research presentations I listened to were rich in information and insightful. For example, from one presentation, I learned about a new method of treating cancer by using organic chemical compounds. I was also introduced to the presenter’s admirable Alumni Community Action Grant project, Pink Steps Lebanon, which helps breast cancer survivors live a healthy lifestyle. This part of the conference broadened my perspective on how to contribute to society, and it gave me a better idea of the types of projects funded by the Fulbright Alumni Community Action Grant. Through yet another presentation, I was amazed to learn that the cheapest solar installation on record is in Abu Dhabi, a byproduct of that city’s expansion of renewables. For my presentation, I was able to draw on the knowledge I gained as an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Arkansas. I spoke to the group about the benefits of piezoelectricity, which is a clean way of generating electricity using mechanical pressure.
Abderrahmane and fellow Fulbright alumnus Adnan meet before the conference
In addition to the engaging academic atmosphere, the conference was also a fantastic Fulbright networking opportunity. For example, I talked with an alum who spoke three languages with a perfect accent and full proficiency. That was amazing! I also met a Fulbrighter who is a very successful author and blogger. That conversation inspired me to start writing about topics that I am passionate about. Overall, the Alumni Conference gave me the opportunity to learn from successful, dedicated professionals in the field of Natural Resources. This was a unique growing experience because it provided me with valuable insight into how others have learned to follow their passions.
Abderrahmane is an alumnus of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. He graduated in 2016 from the University of Arkansas where he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Once in a Lifetime Event: The U.S Presidential Debate on Campus

Younies in front of the CNN desk before the debate

My university, Washington University in St. Louis, or as students like to call it, WashU, hosted the second U.S. presidential debate on October 9. This event was incredibly interesting because the role of debates during a presidential election is an important one: they allow candidates to answer questions from citizens and journalists, which helps the public better understand the candidates’ policies.

Student groups on the Washington University Campus
The second debate was a fascinating event for both American and international students at WashU. First, all the news agencies were on our campus (Yaah!). I saw the cameras that streamed the event live around the world. Second, it was also a unique experience to see all student groups representing their own views on the future and the country. It was great to see everyone discussing their opinions on the race!

For example, many organizations talked about the problems that they thought should be addressed, and also the challenges they faced in their own groups. It was evident that not everyone agreed; Students supported different candidates based and their own beliefs and needs. This was the first time I understood how big of a responsibility it is to be President, and also the difficulty of winning an election.

I believe that the Fulbright Program prepared me well to join my American campus and community. For example, program administrators encouraged me to be curious about events in my new city, which is why I was so interested in the debate on my campus. On the other hand, I also feel that I am both an ambassador for Fulbright and my country. This gives me a responsibility to join in cultural events, and to learn as much as possible from each new experience.

Entrance to WashU during debate

Younies, a Fulbright Student from Egypt, is pursuing an M.S. in Computer Science and Engineering at
Washington University in St. Louis with a specialization in
machine learning and data mining.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Three Weeks in San Diego: Perfect Prep for the Fulbright Student Experience

Fulbright student Soumaya whale watching in San Diego
My Fulbright journey began with a Fulbright Pre-academic Program at San Diego State University, which was a three-week orientation designed to expose Fulbrighters to academia in the United States and teach them about American culture. During the program, I was able to meet many talented and exceptional Fulbrighters from all over the world, including students from Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa. Another Fulbright student and I also had the opportunity to stay with an American host family for a weekend. They took us around their beautiful city, and we attended a San Diego Symphony concert by the beach where we listened to the Star Wars and Jaws theme songs. We even had a picnic with friends while we listened to the music. That was such an exciting and unforgettable day!

The lecturers in the pre-academic program covered a variety of subjects: communication, cultural diversity, gender identity, economy and many other topics. The most interesting aspect of the lectures was that I learned so much from each participant’s own experiences.

For example, I found out that people react differently to the same situation based on their background and cultures. Additionally, I liked the discussions that we had afterward, and also how professors encouraged us to ask questions and be curious.

Group sight-seeing selfie during Fulbright Pre-Academic Program in San Diego

San Diego was such an amazing city. Through our Fulbright Pre-academic Program we visited the US Midway Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. We also went to a baseball game and our team won! Most importantly, we took part in a volunteer activity that allowed us to give back to the local community and to be engaged.

When I reflect on my three weeks spent in San Diego, I realize that it taught me what it means to be citizen of the world, and also to embrace differences and respect diversity. I believe in a better world where differences are not stigmatized but regarded as riches.

“I believe in a better world where differences are not stigmatized but regarded as riches.” –Fulbright Student Soumaya

I want to thank our amazing program organizer, Theresa, for her great support that made this experience so enjoyable and fulfilling. Last but not least, I want thank the Fulbright Program for allowing me to take part in this unique adventure, and for giving me the chance to pursue my dreams and to study in the United States.

Soumaya is from Tunisia and is pursuing a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Following J. William Fulbright: The Transformative Power of Pre-Academic Programs

 Fulbright Pre-Academic Program Participants in front of statue of J. William Fulbright

My Fulbright Pre-Academic Program at the University of Arkansas was a fantastic introduction to living and studying in the United States. In just three weeks, I was able to get to know 37 other Fulbrighters from around the world. I also had the opportunity to meet American graduate student mentors, the staff of the University of Arkansas, and several host families and lecturers. Meeting all of these people from different backgrounds, and with different perspectives, has enriched my knowledge of the world.

The Pre-Academic Program schedule was rich and intensive, and it gave us confidence, courage and support. We lived with American host families, visited an elderly residence home, and even conducted simulations in which we practiced initiating conversations with new people. For me, however, the most memorable part of the Program was visiting Little Rock Central High School and Museum. This high school was at the center of the desegregation struggle in the 1950s, and is now famous as the home of “the Little Rock Nine,” the first group of African American students who tried to attend the school but were initially refused entry. This experience introduced our group to the struggles of the Civil Rights era, an important period of American history.

Another memorable part of our day in Little Rock was that on the return trip, some students sang songs from their home countries into the bus microphone. This funny experience broke the ice and was entertaining, which made our trip back go by much faster! From this I learned that journeys are what we make of them.

Fulbright students in front of Little Rock Central High School
Just a few hours before the closing ceremony of the Pre-Academic Program, my professors asked me to give a speech on behalf of the Fulbright group. I was thrilled and honored to do so! I decided not to prepare a memorized text, but to tell the story of every Fulbright student: a narrative that begins with a dream, continues toward making the dream come to fruition, and ends with the challenges and excitement of the dream (a Fulbright grant) coming true. I was often reminded during my time in the program of the dream of J. William Fulbright. Being at the University of Arkansas, walking in his steps, and seeing his statue—with his head held high but in a humble posture, was a privilege. Destiny or some other force brought us all together to start our journeys in the same place as J. William Fulbright.

Fatima studies Filmmaking at The City College of New York. She aspires to become a documentary filmmaker and to use the art form to bring attention to social issues such as women’s rights and access to education.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Leading Fellow Fulbrighters at Purdue

  Welcome picnic for newly-arrived Fulbrighters at Purdue University
When I first arrived at Indiana University, I received a welcome email from a Turkish Fulbrighter who was the President of the Purdue Fulbright Association (PFA). My first thought was, “NICE, there is a network of Fulbrighters here that I can join!” Well, I did join that group, and I can proudly say that I am now one of its board members and outreach officers.
My first introduction to PFA was through a picnic at which all the previous Fulbrighters prepared food and welcomed newcomers. The organizers even gave us a campus tour and hosted a reception party that was coordinated between various Purdue offices.
The welcome picnic was just the beginning of my experience with PFA. Throughout the academic year members continued to organize fantastic events. We held frequent picnics where we we shared food, stories and played games. We also attended plays, concerts and variety shows. We even went to a "Wolf Howl" night, an evening program at a nearby wolf sanctuary!
PFA field trip to Wolf Park (Wolf Sanctuary)
I would like to point out that organizing such activities is hard work, which requires the cooperation of our team members: the President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Communications and Outreach officers. We work so well together because we are all Fulbrighters. We share similar experiences, policies, rules and procedures. Some Association leaders have been at Purdue for more than 5 years, so they often provide younger members of the leadership team with advice.
I'm really proud to have been chosen as the outreach officer of the new board. I'm responsible for the communication between the group and other Purdue and West Lafayette, Indiana organizations. In fact, the group is very popular with Purdue offices and professors. Many professors and deans are either previous Fulbrighters, or they simply enjoy interacting with international students. They work with us to organize Fulbrighter reception and farewell parties, and they sometimes even invite us to dinner at their houses!
Ahmed is from Egypt and studies Computer Science at Purdue University. Ahmed plans to serve on the PFA leadership team until his graduation in May 2016.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer in San Francisco: A Lifetime of Cultural Exchange Memories

Nour crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

It was around 5:00 p.m. when I landed in California. The first thing that came to my mind were the lyrics from the famous song, “Hotel California”:

Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place… 

And indeed California is such a lovely place!

I traveled to California to complete a summer marketing internship in a growing medical tech company in the San Francisco area. The professional experience I gained while there was amazing, but the cultural experience was the most memorable. I have been fortunate enough to visit several metropolitan areas in the US such as Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, and Houston; San Francisco, however, was the most special. I fell in love with everything there: the beautiful weather, the kind people, the peaceful ocean, and the diverse cultural identity. I love California because it has a lot offer. If you love the sea, the gorgeous ocean is there for you to enjoy; if you are a climber, Yosemite’s cliffs and domes should be your next challenge; and if you are like me, a fan of big cities, then San Francisco is your destination!

Nour visits the Sutro Baths near San Francisco
I met wonderful people everywhere I went who were from different backgrounds. Everyone from my host family members, boss, and coworkers, to the random people I met along the way, made me feel welcome. Californians also felt incredibly happy when I told them how much I loved their state and appreciated their hospitality. Nearly always, peoples’ reactions to my being a Fulbright scholar from Iraq were variations of, “Wow, that’s awesome! I really want to visit your country one day!”
Now, my new friends in California know a little bit more about Iraq. For example, I taught them the word “yalla!” Yalla means “hurry up” or “let’s go” in the Iraqi Arabic dialect. They also learned that the equivalent term of “what’s up” is “shako mako.” I believe that the Californians I met now know enough vocabulary to survive in my country. J    
Just like California, the US has a lot to offer as well. I find that the US has kind people and diverse culture, and that it also provides amazing learning experiences to international students. The famous Arabic traveler and Scholar, Ibn Battuta, once said: “traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” So “yalla” my fellow Fulbrighters, let’s try to visit as many places in the US as we can during our time here. Every city is different and offers tons to explore!

Nour visits the Googleplex in Mountain View, California
Nour is pursuing an MBA and plans to work for an international NGO in the field of international development.