Meet Our 2017 DKSSF Scholars

Meet 18 bright young men and women who are beginning their undergraduate studies in the United States or at U.S.-style institutions elsewhere on scholarships received through the DKSSF program.
Our incoming class of DKSSF scholars includes students from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

The 11 women and seven men come from six countries — Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, and, for the first time, Libya. The support of Amideast’s educational advising staff that is offered all DKSSF students was critical to their successful applications. In most cases, their applications were also strengthened by their participation in the Competitive College Club (CCC), which Amideast manages on behalf of EducationUSA in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen.


Learning to overcome adversity at a young age, Nada Ahmed has shown the ability to take on life’s challenges and succeed. Nada’s mother passed away when she was just eight years old, leaving her father to raise her and her younger siblings. Her commitment to school is evident in her academic achievements — finishing high school with a 4.0 GPA — as well as her active involvement in the Competitive College Club (CCC), where she helped organize college fairs and other volunteer activities. She is also an accomplished athlete, excelling in gymnastics, track and field, and martial arts. She placed in the top five in national competitions for both gymnastics and track and field, and ranked 12th in an international fitness course in Poland in 2016. Nada began her studies at Mississippi College in fall 2017.

Shahinda Ahmed is pursuing a degree in architecture at the University of Cincinnati. Through her many volunteer and service activities, Shahinda has demonstrated a strong commitment to giving back and improving her local community. During high school, she was active in the EducationUSA Competitive College Club (CCC) at Amideast, as well as her school’s Alpha Leo Charity Club and Art and Design Committee. She also volunteered at Alex Marathon, an NGO that organizes weekly runs and races, writing and editing content for its monthly magazine and helping to organize events, including its annual race for awareness of domestic violence against women. In addition, as a volunteer at an arts center in summer 2016, she taught kids the basics of drawing 3D models.

Nour El-Khalawy is a freshman at the Minerva Schools at KGI, part of the Claremont (California) Consortium. Growing up in Cairo, she earned a scholarship to attend the Maadi STEM School for Girls and was active in the Competitive College Club (CCC). Passionate about computer science, Nour was honored to be invited to join the New York Academy of Science’s Junior Academy and presented her work before an audience that included Nobel Laureates during the academy’s bicentennial celebration. She was also a finalist in Wearables for Good Challenge, a global competition to create innovative and affordable technologies that address issues facing children, and participated in the Microsoft DigiGirlz program, which promotes careers in technology.

Maria Shehata began her undergraduate studies at the New College of Florida in fall 2017 after graduating from high school in Cairo with a 4.0 GPA. Maria is just as dedicated and successful outside the classroom. In 2016, she placed fourth internationally in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).  She also won a junior membership to the New York Academy of Sciences through the Global STEM Alliance. She loves track and field, which she has been participating in since grade school, and won two bronze medals in the Egyptian National Track and Field Competition. Further demonstrating her well-rounded abilities, Maria also won the Ideal Girl Scouting Competition in Egypt, enjoys playing piano, and volunteered for Smile Makers, a travel and tourism agency.


Loay Alarab lived through conditions that would have tempted many students to drop out of school. When his father lost his job in 2016, Loay was concerned that a college education would be beyond his reach. After completing a year of high school in Toledo, Ohio—thanks to a scholarship through the YES program—he was determined to continue his pursuit for higher education. With hard work and the help of Amideast advisers, Loay earned a scholarship from the University of Toledo, where he will double major in political science and economics. Loay hopes to attend law school before returning to Lebanon where, he says, “I want to start an NGO that offers legal services to those who cannot afford them and supports students at risk of dropping out of school.”

Tala Azzam grew up encouraged by her mother, a freelance translator, and her father, a journalist, to strive for the best possible education, but finances were a challenge. “If it hadn’t been for Amideast, I wouldn’t have even been able to afford to apply for college in the United States,” she says. By working with Amideast’s educational advisers, she applied for and earned a scholarship from the University of Chicago, where she will be able to pursue her diverse interests. She is considering a major in biochemistry and looking forward to participating in research and internships throughout her college career. After she graduates, she would like to pursue a master’s degree in forensic sciences, an area that will enable her to fulfill her passion for interdisciplinary fields that join different branches of knowledge.

Marc Haddad is passionate about engineering and music, and beginning this year at the University of Rochester (UoR), he is thrilled to be pursuing both. After more than a year of hard work in the Competitive College Club (CCC), he was offered one of UoR’s most prestigious scholarships, the Dean’s Scholarship, to study mechanical engineering as well as music at UoR’s prestigious Eastman School of Music. Marc, who graduated from Saint Joseph School in Cornet Chehwan, is excited about expanding his knowledge of the world of automation, while keeping his ardent love for music alive throughout his academic career. “Amideast as a whole and the CCC have been a great support system for all of us,” says Marc. “If it weren’t for them, we’d honestly still be in Lebanon.”

Born in southern Lebanon and raised in Beirut, Soha Kawtharani has overcome many hardships to pursue her dreams. Soha found support at Amideast, spending a year of high school in the United States through the YES program and then joining the Competitive College Club (CCC) to further her chances of returning to the United States to continue her studies. After applying to several colleges, she was thrilled to earn admission to her top choice, Hamilton College, with a full scholarship. Grateful, she says, “My Amideast experience, as clichéd as it sounds, has been absolutely life-changing. [I can] finally do what I love to do […]. I’m at a truly exciting place right now.”

Originally from Jezzine in southern Lebanon, Joseph Merhi completed secondary school at the College Notre Dame de Jamhour, where he was an excellent student and basketball player whose team won several tournaments. Joseph knew from day one that he wanted to study at Cornell University and worked hard to achieve his goal. Now a freshman at Cornell, he is majoring in mechanical engineering in order to prepare himself to pursue a career in automobile, naval, or aerospace manufacturing, which reflects his childhood passion for engines, cars, and planes. It is something he has always dreamt about and studying abroad will help Joseph get one step closer to his goal.

Growing up in Saida, Mohamad Safadieh overcame many challenges as the eldest of three children living alone with their mother while their father worked abroad. A year in Arizona on the YES program awakened his interest in studying in the United States, a goal that he was able to realize after three years in the Competitive College Club (CCC) and winning a scholarship from Vassar College. As he contemplated his path of study during that period, he considered astrophysics, physics, philosophy, computer science, and economics and decided on a double major in computer science and economics with a minor in philosophy. “My journey has been very long and very tiring,” he says, adding that his advice to younger students who may wish to study in the United States is “work hard.”

Jana Sebaali plans to major in electrical engineering at Princeton University. Jana’s father is a retired soldier, and her two older sisters, who are also engineers, encouraged her curiosity in science. An outstanding student at the Saint Joseph School in Cornet Chehwan, she travelled to the United States in 2016 to participate in "TechGirls," a summer program designed to nurture a passion for leadership and sharpen technology skills of teenage girls. This experience inspired her to want to help bridge the divide between refugees and Lebanon’s population with a club for children. She dreams of pursuing a master's degree in a more specialized field and ultimately earning a Ph.D. so that she can teach and share her interest in engineering with college students and experts. 

As the only child of a computer programmer and a teacher, Lori Younissess recalls that she was always encouraged to pursue the highest education possible. Participating in a Model UN Conference in New York helped her learn more about gender-based violence across the globe and motivated her to develop the knowledge and legal skills needed to fight for those who don’t have a voice. She set her sights on studying in the United States with the ultimate goal of an advanced degree in international human rights law. Through the Competitive College Club (CCC), Lori learned about American University’s Emerging Global Leaders Scholarship, which the school awards to one international student each year. Impressively, Lori was selected for the award from a pool of 1,250 candidates and she has decided to double major in international relations and political science with a minor in justice and law.


Born in Libya, Abdulrahman Ayad moved to England with his parents and two sisters when he was four. He initially struggled to make friends and learn a new language and new customs, but he found success in athletics—basketball and taekwondo—and was a dedicated and outstanding student. Though he learned to adapt and thrive in his life in England, his family decided to move back home to Tripoli—where Abdulrahman faced a new period of readjustment. However, he soon felt back at home, and he utilized his strong English language skills to become a mentor among his fellow students. His journey now brings him to the University of Denver, where he is planning to major in computer science and will no doubt use his adaptive skills to take advantage of the many opportunities the university has to offer.


Ali Suleiman spent his boyhood in Homs, a city that was to become engulfed by Syria’s bloody civil war. By a stroke of good luck, however, his father received a job offer in Latakia, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, a few months before the war broke out, and Ali was able to complete high school there in 2014. A hard worker who cares about his community, Ali volunteered with Al-Twahod organization, which helps disabled children and raises awareness of child protection, and taught English to children at the Jebran Institute in Latakia. Through the DKSSF, he secured admission and funding to American University in Central Asia, where he is majoring in liberal arts sciences with a concentration in international and comparative politics. Today he is optimistic that this new chapter in his life will enable him to pursue his interests and goals.


Nour Benmohamed grew up in the southern city of Gafsa, where she graduated from the Pioneer School, while also spending year of high school in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on the YES program. She cofounded Tunisia’s first-ever high school press club, LPG Weekly, and was also active in the debate club. With her math club team, she participated in the national mathematical games, making it to the finals in 2014. Nour is now a freshman at Dartmouth College and is considering a major in computer engineering. She joined the Women in Computer Science Club, wanting to learn more about the experiences of women majoring in computer science as well as Dartmouth alumni working at major tech companies, and is also a member of Ledyard, a canoe and kayaking club that organizes outings on the Connecticut River and elsewhere.

Cherine Ghazouani grew up in Tunis with her parents, sister, and grandmother and spent her junior year of high school in Rochester, New York, on the YES program. With help from the DKSSF, Cherine was able to return to the area to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Rochester, where she is majoring in optical engineering with a potential double major in economics. She is currently involved in a variety of activities, including serving as the business manager for the Premier Entrepreneurship Club on campus and volunteering as much as possible to give back to the community. Beyond her academic and community service interests, she loves attending concerts and other cultural events in order to meet new people and broaden her perspectives.


In 2014, Wadhah Al-Fardy left Aden, where he grew up with five siblings, for a year of high school in Virginia on the YES program.  It was a year that turned out to be pivotal. He completed more than 100 community service hours and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and The Foundry, an organization that provides activities and workshops for adults and children with disabilities. As the year came to an end, the civil unrest in Yemen intensified and it became too dangerous for him to return home. A U.S. Department of State-funded scholarship program affiliated with the Northwest Community College Initiative made it possible for him to remain in the United States and complete his high school education and continue his studies at Edmonds Community College. Now, as a transfer student at Central Washington University, he is majoring in electronic engineering technology.

Mona Saif graduated from Abdulbari High School in Aden in Crater district, where she grew up, after spending the 2012-13 school year in Phoenix, Arizona, on the YES program. During her exchange year, Mona gave presentations about Yemeni culture, was a member of the photography club, and helped clean and paint the campus. She also performed more than 100 hours of community service, assisting with fundraising sales, thrift shop donations, and cooking at homeless shelters. Upon returning to Yemen, Mona continued her commitment to volunteerism. She joined the Aden YES Alumni Association (AYA), becoming its president after two years, and participated in the Al-Sadqah Hospital Internship Program and the Workshop for Leaders in Teaching English. Through the DKSSF, she earned a scholarship to Georgetown University-Qatar, where she plans to major in international relations.