A bid to enroll Arabs in U.S. colleges
MIT students help dispel their fears and doubts about applying to American schools, where they remain a relative minority after 9/11.
Like any good high school student, Lana Awad dreamed of an Ivy League education. But when the Syrian teen started applying to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and Harvard College, her guidance counselor told her to think smaller. After all, no one from her high school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia had ever gone to a college farther away than Lebanon, just across the Arabian Peninsula.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"They wanted me not to be disappointed, not to feel, you know, rejected ... advising me not to aim too high," says Ms. Awad. In the end, she got into Princeton and MIT, where she is now a freshman.
At a time when Arab enrollments in US universities are still recovering from a post-9/11 plunge, it is experiences like Awad's that an MIT student group is trying to change. The College Admissions Arab Mentorship Program (CAAMP), whose members have just returned from their annual tour of Middle Eastern schools, aims to ensure that myths about American colleges and life in the US don't deter Arabs from studying here. The group encourages Middle Eastern students to take advantage of US universities so they can become more effective leaders in their homeland, as well as agents of cross-cultural exchange.
During its tours, the group tells Arab teens they have the opportunity to take their culture to the States, "to teach people about [themselves], and where [they're] coming from, and, at the same time, to learn from people in the States. So it's a two way street," says Ibrahim Kanan, an MIT senior engineering major and CAAMP member.
Still, in a post-9/11 landscape, conveying this message to students in countries like Libya or the West Bank is challenging, especially as tighter US visa restrictions have discouraged many from applying, says Iman Kandil, CAAMP's co-founder and an MIT junior.
Though the number of all international students declined steadily from 2001 until last year – when it began an uptick again – the number of students from the Middle East (excluding Israel) and North Africa still constitutes less than 4 percent of international students in the US. That's a drop of nearly half compared with the 2000-01 academic year just before the 9/11 attacks, when Arabs were 7 percent of international students.