Congratulating Our 2018 DKSSF Graduates

We are pleased to congratulate 16 seniors in the Diana Kamal Scholarship Search Fund (DKSSF) program who graduated this year.

These impressive young women and men from Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco stood out during their undergraduate studies for their remarkable academic and extracurricular accomplishments.


Farida Sabry graduated from Smith College with a B.S. in engineering and a B.A. in computer science. She stood out as a NeXXt Scholar and GHC Scholar, awards that recognized her outstanding achievements in STEM, and took advantage of internships and teaching assistant positions at Smith and elsewhere, including the NASA Ames Research Center. She also served in leadership roles in Smithies in Computer Science, Girls Who Code, and the Girl Scouts, using these platforms to share her passion for robotics and computer programming with young girls in the area. Farida is currently a software development engineer at Audible in Boston.

Omar Shehata graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from St. Olaf College, a small liberal arts college with an emphasis on active learning that allowed him to assist his professors in the classroom and collaborate on research projects in the field. Omar has accepted a position as a computer graphics engineer at Analytical Graphics Inc., a Pennsylvania-based space and defense company, where he’ll be working on visualization tools used in drone, oil and gas, agriculture, and geospatial industries. He hopes someday to use his education and experience to provide teaching materials and develop other ways to give people greater access to resources in Egypt. Looking back, Omar recalls that his scholarship came at a decisive moment, making his dream of study abroad come true. “I think being able to study in the US has afforded me so many opportunities and amazing experiences that I feel absolutely lucky to have, and would not have had access to any of that without the DKSSF,” he adds.


Jad El Harake is rapidly blazing his own path and leading the way for rising scholars like himself. At Vanderbilt University, where he majored in biomedical engineering, he worked as an orientation leader, international student mentor, and residential adviser. He also made a point of connecting with students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, gaining a peer group that gave him insights into the social justice issues facing the United States. Jad’s next goal is to complete his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Columbia University with a focus on ultrasound imaging research. After that, he plans to return to Lebanon to help improve its biomedical sector. The DKSSF changed his life, Jad says. “I owe my entire college experience and education."

Sybil Fares graduated with a major in mathematics from Columbia University, while taking advantage of its liberal arts curriculum to explore philosophy, literature, and poetry. Opportunities to work on policy reports during an internship with Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and to mentor prospective students from the Middle East through the Global Recruitment Committee taught her “to think critically, create ingeniously, [and] be open to more diverse opportunities.” Reflecting on how the DKSSF helped her overcome the barriers to education she had faced growing up in an underprivileged background, she expresses her wish to share her experience with students in Lebanon and mentor them in the pursuit of higher education. “[The] DKSSF has helped me break a chain — I am the first in my family to graduate from college — and that assures me that I will not be the last. By investing in youth, the DKSSF holds out the promise of change and progress much needed in Lebanese society.”

Jack Grayeb received his Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in the same major.  While internships during his undergraduate studies gave him experience in the oil and gas industry, specifically in the areas of upstream deepwater and upstream unconventionals, his interests extend to “all things construction and management.”

Joe Karam graduated from Boston University with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in business administration and accounting.  Joe made the dean’s list for four consecutive years and served as a physics teaching assistant and resident adviser. He also participated in BU’s Finance and Investing Club and the BU Lebanese Club. Joe credits his college experience with shaping his career path and enabling him to meet people from all over the world. Not least, he notes, “my experience living abroad gave me the skills to be fully independent with an open mind to learn and grow.”

Lara Khalifeh graduated in psychology from Earlham College. Besides excelling in her studies ― she was admitted to Psi Chi, the international psychology honors society ― she stood out in field hockey and women’s track and field, earning the distinction of being one of six athletes inducted this year into Earlham’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, an honor that recognizes their commitment to achieving excellence in both academics and athletics. Lara plans to continue her studies in psychology in graduate school, then would like to return to Lebanon to open a center that offers autism services. “The opportunities DKSSF provided me with opened my eyes to new experiences, fields, and cultures. Studying in the U.S. has made me a more open individual who is willing to seek all the opportunities available.”

Ahmed Maarouf graduated with honors with a B.S. in biopharmaceutical engineering from Lehigh University and is now working as an Upstream Vaccine Scientist at Merck Pharmaceuticals in the greater Philadelphia area. He credits the variety of STEM courses and research opportunities at Lehigh with helping him figure out exactly which career track to take. Equally significant, he says, the challenge of living outside his “comfort bubble” for four years made him a much stronger, more independent, and confident individual.   “There is literally no way to make this sound less corny, but the experiences I gained over the past years have simply made me the best version of myself that I could’ve asked to be today."

Mahmoud Mahdi has truly made the most of his time at Earlham College. In addition to majoring in biochemistry, he participated in numerous extracurricular activities that included serving as the secretary of finance for Earlham’s student government, a resident assistant, a Muslim Association leader, and a teaching assistant for several classes. Such experiences, he notes, taught him responsibility, the value of diversity, and the importance of global perspectives and issues. Mahmoud is pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor by returning to Lebanon to enter the School of Medicine at the Lebanese American University. In the long term, he hopes to establish a research center in Lebanon that connects American and Lebanese researchers and scientists. Mahmoud does not overlook the role the DKSSF played in his life: “[The] DKSSF has literally changed my life … I am forever grateful [to have been introduced] to this wonderful family — AMIDEAST.”

Alexandru Mahmoud graduated with honors from Vassar College in his double major, computer science and psychological science. Standing out as “the Psychology student who codes,” he was able to take advantage of many opportunities to participate in research projects. In addition, he found time for extracurriculars, including theater and leadership roles in the Middle Eastern North African Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine. Currently a research analyst/software engineer at The Johns Hopkins University, Alexandru expects to pursue his Ph.D. in computational biology or a related field and envisions possibilities for opening a research laboratory in Lebanon and creating many collaborative opportunities for researchers there. “Beyond its obvious practical benefits, the [DKSSF] introduced me to amazing and caring people that have become a second family to me, [a] network of talented and dedicated people [that] has had and continues to have unmeasurable benefits on my life on many levels. Thus, I would say that DKSSF hasn’t just changed my life, it continues to be a part of my life and helps shape it at every turn.”

Maya Nasr is already a role model for young Arab women in STEM and is on her way to becoming a leader in space exploration research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate cherishes her undergraduate studies for giving her independence and providing networking opportunities that opened doors to working on innovative projects with NASA and MIT relating to satellite tracking, jet propulsion, and nanotechnology ― including travel abroad to work on “The AquaMAV project” at Imperial College in London and to organize the first robotics and controls program with MIT at the Indian Institute of Technology. Post-graduation, she intends to pursue her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, continue working on NASA projects, and support other Lebanese students interested in space-related fields of study. Maya believes strongly that receiving the DKSSF and being part of the EducationUSA Competitive College Club at AMIDEAST was a huge turning point in her life:  “[They] helped me get accepted to my dream school in the U.S. at the age of 16. Without [them], I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get exposed or even apply to universities in the U.S.”

Khawla Nasser AlDeen graduated with a major in psychology and a minor in public health from Berea College, where her experiences sparked her interests in mental health research and human rights. She is serving as a youth representative to the UN for the International Association of Applied Psychology while planning to pursue further education and research in the field of behavioral public health, with a focus on well-being postwar/displacement trauma. She also hopes to promote mental health in Lebanon and the Arab region with a focus on the relevance of structural and environmental factors. Khawla credits the DKSSF for teaching her academic self-discipline, the art of scholarly debate, and the opportunity to be surrounded by inspiring advisors, peers, and colleagues: “The DKSSF program was rigorous and challenging…[It] was valuable in preparing me not only for college applications but also for building the necessary skills to navigate college. I must mention how inspiring it was to be surrounded with the DKSSF cohort and network of DKSSF alumni!” 

Namir Saade graduated from Dickinson College with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. He says that “meeting people from so many different backgrounds and having the privilege to witness cultural differences first hand, to realize that we are more alike than we are different will forever be the highlight of my college experience. It was more educational than any science class I have ever taken.” The opportunity to research on human podocytes in a high glucose environment comes in close, however. Namir has returned to Lebanon, where he is currently studying medicine at the Lebanese American University as he pursues his dream of eventually practicing medicine in Lebanon. As he reflects on his experience, he adds, “I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for my experience abroad, and I owe it all to the generosity of those who fund DKSSF students.” 

Christelle Salloum graduated from Lehigh University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.  She cherishes her college experience for giving her a chance to discover herself and appreciate her Lebanese background and the unique perspective she was able to bring to class discussions and in the numerous relationships she formed. She thrived academically and interpersonally; she founded the Middle Eastern club on campus, served as the president of the architecture club, and took advantage of opportunities to be a teaching assistant and orientation leader for incoming students ― leadership opportunities that enhanced her communication skills and were “extremely rewarding.” Christel is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania to gain skills that she envisions using in Lebanon to renovate war-damaged buildings and help improve urban planning to expand green spaces and transportation options. The DKSSF was a game-changer in Christelle’s life, offering her opportunities that were once beyond her reach.  “I definitely could not have had any of these opportunities had it not been for the DKSSF,” she says, adding that the EducationUSA CCC “is now a community I can count on…I made lifelong friends.”

Maya Sleiman completed her bachelor’s degree in engineering science at Smith College and is now pursuing her master’s degree in environmental engineering and sustainable infrastructure at KTH in Stockholm, the largest, oldest, and most international technical university in Sweden. At Smith, she was an engineering and physics teaching assistant and monitored 25 college science labs to ensure their compliance with environmental health and safety regulations. Concerned about the environmental challenges facing Lebanon, she has signed onto an initiative in her home town, Sidon, to work with local professionals to address issues of concern ― a step that she calls “a starting point” for her plans to apply her engineering knowledge and skills to improving infrastructure of Lebanon, especially in the field of water management. Of her DKSSF experience, she adds, “[I]f if there is one thing that I learned from my U.S.-college career, it is that I am capable of excelling in whatever I put my mind (and soul) into.  DKSSF has done more than simply enable me to study abroad, it has given me the chance to realize how big of a change I can make.” 


Najwa El Khamlichi graduated from Mount Holyoke with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in December 2017. Today she is a software engineer at Oscar Health in Massachusetts.