Two UNC Graduate Students Receive Boren Fellowships

April 30, 2015

Carissa Landes (left) and Mary Elizabeth Walters.

Carissa Landes (left) and Mary Elizabeth Walters.

Carissa Landes and Mary Elizabeth Walters have each been awarded a David L. Boren Fellowship through the National Security Education Program, which supports fields of study, particularly languages, identified as critical to United States national security.

A master of arts student in Russian and East European studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Landes plans to immerse herself in the Persian language and in Central Asian culture for nine months in Tajikistan. As an undergraduate at New York University, she gained an understanding of Russian language and culture while studying abroad at Saint Petersburg State University. In her graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, Landes has expanded her expertise to encompass the history, culture, and politics of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Iran.

The Boren Fellowship will enable Landes to attend American Councils’ Eurasian Regional Language Program in Dushanbe, Tajikistan for nine months. She aims to gain proficiency in Persian Farsi and Persian Tajik. She will also conduct research for her master’s thesis on political Islam in contemporary Tajikistan, a project that examines how Islam is represented in the public discourse of the region.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to experience a culture that I have studied for the last two years,” Landes said. “With the support of the Boren Fellowship, I will gain important in-country experience, which will complement my master’s degree in area studies and prepare me for a career in international relations.”

“The Boren Fellowship provides high-achieving graduate students with an immersive experience of overseas study. Carissa’s excellent language skills as well as the critical importance of her research on political Islam in Central Asia make her a wonderful investment for the National Security Education Program,” said Mary Floyd-Wilson, the Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office of Distinguished Scholarships.

Walters is a doctoral student in the history department in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill conducting dissertation research on the dynamics and impact of interactions between NATO, the Albanian government, and local communities during the 1999 Kosovo refugee crisis. The NSEP Boren Fellowship gives Walters the opportunity to reside in Albania for eleven months, where she will attend intensive Albanian language programs, pursue research in the federal and municipal archives, and conduct oral histories with the Albanian communities. The acquisition of Albanian will supplement her already strong Serbo-Croatian skills.

“As a military historian, I hope to use lessons from the past to gain insight into present and future crises,” Walters said. “For my NSEP service requirement I hope to advance this aim by serving as a historian for the Department of Defense or as a professor in one of the Defense universities.” By contextualizing the military humanitarianism of NATO within a local Albanian context, Walters proposes to demonstrate that “the military and strategic cultures of NATO’s member-states provided NATO with a framework to guide the organization’s new humanitarian mission during the 1999 Kosovo refugee crisis.”

“Walters has the background and scholarly aptitude to become a Balkan area specialist, with a specialization in military history. The Boren Fellowship will help her achieve an advanced level of proficiency in Albanian and allow her to gather crucial evidence for her significant dissertation project,” Floyd-Wilson added.

The National Security Education Program granted 101 fellowships nationwide from a pool of 385 applicants. All Boren Fellows live and study in areas of the world that are important to national security.

The Fellowships, valued up to $30,000, are awarded to graduate students in exchange for their commitment to pursue work in the federal government after they graduate.  The program encourages fellowship recipients to seek work with the departments of defense, homeland security and state or intelligence agencies.  Boren also offers scholarships for undergraduate students. https://www.borenawards.org.

Between Idealism and Reality: Learning about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Washington, DC

April 26, 2015

Tamari, Shai with Palestinian Nationalism students outside PLO DelegationBetween April 5 and 7, UNC’s Palestinian Nationalism, Politics, and Diplomacy seminar offered students the opportunity to take a break from reading about one intractable conflict zone to visit another: Washington, D.C.

Led by Shai Tamari, associate director of the Carolina Center of the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and lecturer in the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense, they met with policy-makers and regional experts. Having read and discussed well over 1,000 pages on the topic, the class was prepared to engage with the speakers. While we noted that the trip was educational and not advocacy-related, we did not refrain from asking penetrating questions. Going to D.C. allowed us to test our idealistic assumptions against the hard reality of policy-making.


Undergraduate Student Austin Cooper Wins Fulbright

April 22, 2015

Austin Cooper

Austin Cooper

Austin Cooper received a 2015-16 U.S. Fulbright Student grant to study the history of the Hôpital Franco-Musulman, opened in 1935 in Bobigny, a northern suburb of Paris, France.

Entitled “Health and Community: The Social History of Paris’ Hôpital Franco-Musulman,” his project seeks to examine how immigration from North Africa altered the fabric of twentieth-century French society through the lens of medical practice in the nation’s most cosmopolitan region. Austin will conduct archival research and collaborate with scholars at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne to elaborate the role that the Hôpital Franco-Musulman played in the Muslim communities of Greater Paris.

A native of Cary, NC, and a member of the UNC Class of 2014, Austin holds a B.A. with Honors in Comparative Literature and French.

Sullivan, Tufekci Named Andrew Carnegie Fellows

April 22, 2015

Patricia Sullivan (left) and Zeynep Tufekci have been honored as inaugural 2015 Andrew Carnegie Fellows by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Patricia Sullivan (left) and Zeynep Tufekci have been honored as inaugural 2015 Andrew Carnegie Fellows by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Two professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been honored as inaugural 2015 Andrew Carnegie Fellows by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Patricia Sullivan, an associate professor in the department of public policy and the curriculum in peace, war, and defense, and Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor in the UNC School of Information and Library Science and an adjunct professor in the department of sociology, are two of 32 scholars selected for the honor.

The new annual fellowship program provides up to a $200,000 award to junior, emerging, or senior scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals in the humanities and social sciences who are pursuing research on the challenges facing U.S. democracy and international order in the next 25 years. Recipients are enabled to take a sabbatical of between one and two years to research and write.

“We have phenomenal faculty here at Carolina and I am so pleased the Carnegie Corporation has recognized not just one, but two of our best this year,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “I congratulate Tricia Sullivan and Zeynep Tufekci on such a tremendous honor and am confident they will use this opportunity to continue making a powerful impact in policy and technology.”

The fellowships aim to provide new perspectives on the program’s overarching theme for 2015: Current and Future Challenges to U.S. Democracy and International Order. Winning proposals address issues including policing and race, big data and privacy, the impact of an aging population, the safety of generic drugs, and how attitudes are formed among voters. The Corporation will award a total of $6.4 million to the inaugural class.

Doctoral Candidate, US Army Major Works On Safer Water for Troops

April 21, 2015

UNC Gillings doctoral student Major Jay Reyes creating a sand filter in Afghanistan.

UNC Gillings doctoral student Major Jay Reyes creating a sand filter in Afghanistan.

When U.S. soldiers are fighting on the battlefield or behind enemy lines, they can encounter a challenge that’s almost as hazardous as enemy fire, air strikes or improvised explosive devices (IEDs): contaminated water. But a U.S. Army major is now enrolled in a PhD program at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he hopes to create a powerful new weapon to combat this threat for the military and others.

“Bad water can slow down and compromise a mission, hitting every man in the field. This becomes especially dangerous for troops in the Special Operation Forces (SOF) who are often operating behind enemy lines on missions where they have to be extremely mobile, quick and discreet,” says Jay Reyes, MPH, an active-duty U.S. Army Major and PhD student in the Environmental Sciences and Engineering Department at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Along with the immediate health complications, the water we are finding in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and other under developed nations can produce long-term negative health effects on our troops. That’s why I’m doing this research.”

The research Reyes mentions is the subject of his PhD studies, which he is doing under the supervision of Mark Sobsey, PhD, Kenan Professor, environmental sciences and engineering. It involves the inherent quality of water troops ingest in the field, especially when it is needed by small, highly mobile teams traveling on foot, such as SOF.


J-school Students Launch Interactive Storytelling Project in Response to #ChapelHillShooting

April 14, 2015

aftertheshootingUNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication undergraduate and graduate students in assistant professor Chad A. Stevens‘ multimedia narratives class – with the assistance of fellow visual communication professor Steven King – have launched aftertheshooting.com in response to the Feb. 10, 2015, #ChapelHillShooting.

“As students, members of the community and journalists questioning why this happened, they created an interactive tool that fostered discussion and connection — and a new approach to interactive storytelling,” Stevens said.

The students gathered journalists, health professionals, religious leaders and gun control experts to discuss their field of expertise as it related to the shooting — ultimately creating a multimedia archive that captures a community searching for healing and understanding.

Visit aftertheshooting.com to view the project and to learn more.

Ismail Awarded Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Indonesia

April 13, 2015

Safiyah Ismail

Safiyah Ismail

Safiyah Ismail, currently in her senior year in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, will travel to Indonesia later this year as a Fulbright Student.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program allows graduating seniors, master’s students, doctoral candidates and recent graduates to self-design a research project or serve as an English teaching assistant (ETA) in one of more than 140 countries. The goal of the program is to increase mutual understanding between the United States and other nations.

Ismail, a Bachelor of Science in Public Health student from Cary, N.C., seeks to learn important lessons in cultural diversity and inclusion during her time as an ETA in Indonesia.

“I chose to apply to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Program because I am passionate about access to education and the exchange of knowledge,” said Ismail. “As an ETA, I will have the opportunity to share the identity and perspective of an American Muslim with my Indonesian peers, while simultaneously serving as a cultural ambassador. Outside the classroom, I hope to establish an Indonesian Sign Language Club by partnering with the local deaf community.”

Ismail co-founded the UNC American Sign Language Club during her sophomore year of college. She also serves as the executive director of Students for Students International, a nonprofit organization that funds educational scholarships for girls to pursue secondary school in Zanzibar.

“Because of my own background in American Sign Language, the shared origins of Indonesian and American Sign Language will allow me to engage with the local community on a deeper level,” Ismail said. “I am incredibly excited to use communication as a tool to build bridges of understanding. I am also looking forward to creating bonds with my students, immersing myself within a new culture and — most importantly — engaging in the uncomfortable conversations that challenge ideas and change perceptions.”

After completing her work with the Fulbright Program, Ismail plans to attend medical school and pursue a dual degree as a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Public Health.

“My emphasis will be on global public health, because I am drawn to help minorities who struggle with navigating the health care system,” she shared. “I believe that health disparities in developing countries can be addressed through improved communication and increased accessibility to health-care resources. My time in Indonesia will serve me well in this mission, because gaining the trust of students in a classroom is just as important as gaining the trust of patients in a hospital.”


Each year, students receive Fulbright grant notifications on a rolling basis starting in mid-March. The most current and complete list of all UNC winners is available from the Center for Global Initiatives, which manages the program at UNC. An announcement of all UNC awards will be made in August 2015.

Intercultural Lunch Celebrates Diversity at Gillings School

April 13, 2015

Graduate students (l-r) Fadumo Abdi, Dilshad Jaff and Rebeccah Bartlett planned the intercultural lunch.

Graduate students (l-r) Fadumo Abdi, Dilshad Jaff and Rebeccah Bartlett planned the intercultural lunch.

On April 1, three graduate students from the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health brought together other students, faculty and staff to honor the lives of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha.

The informal lunch offered an opportunity to remember the three Muslim students, who were killed in Chapel Hill on February 10. Barakat was a second-year graduate student at the UNC School of Dentistry, and Yusor Abu-Salha had been accepted to start studies there in the fall.

The lunch also provided a chance for members of the UNC community from assorted cultural backgrounds to meet and share a meal together.

“We organized the intercultural lunch to honor the lives of Deah, Yusor and Razan, who were murdered earlier in the year,” said Fadumo Abdi, one of the event organizers. “It was also done in the spirit of recognizing the diversity in the UNC community and the culture that binds and unites us all. We wanted to share the importance of these UNC values with everyone who was able to attend.”


New Languages Help Students Cross Borders

April 9, 2015

Studying languages has taken Lily Herbert ’16 to places she never imagined she’d go. Herbert, who is from Raleigh, North Carolina, is majoring in global studies and geography. She’s studying Persian and Turkish on campus and has learned Tatar through a Foreign Language and Area Studies award.

“Studying languages at UNC has been extremely valuable,” says Herbert. “It’s opened entirely different paths to me–like traveling to places I never thought I would. So my advice to new students is to take the time, take a risk, and make an investment in a new language—or several!”

Film produced by Katie Bowler Young and directed, shot and edited by Phil Daquila. Assistance provided by Zawadi Barskile.


Passion in Practice Exhibit : Muslims in the Community

March 30, 2015

“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” -Rumi

IMG_8195For the  past month, journalist Layla Quran and writer/photographer Aisha Anwar have been traveling across North Carolina collecting stories from Muslim community members. They have turned those stories into a multimedia exhibit that is currently on display in the Carolina Union art gallery at UNC Chapel Hill. The exhibit is in honor of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha.

Passion in Practice: Muslims of the Community is a multimedia experience featuring Muslims as they pursue their passions or interests and embody Islam in their daily lives. A first installment, exhibited in the fall of 2013 featured Muslim students and scholars. The pictures from that first installment can be found here. This second installment of Passion in Practice showcases the work of North Carolina Muslim community members, and how Islam drives their daily lives. To watch the video made of all the people interviewed for this year’s exhibit, please click here.

The exhibit will be on display for the remainder of the academic semester.

Aisha Anwar is a writer and photographer based in North Carolina. She’s interested in depictions of ethnic children in juvenile literature and she is currently writing her first children’s book, called Finding Layla. Her photographs and writing have appeared in ISLAMiCommentary, Illume Magazine, The Daily Tar Heel, Carolina Quarterly, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Follow her on Twitter: @Aisha_Anwar01 .


Layla Quran is a Journalist from Greenville, NC. Her past research and multimedia projects include interviewing Iraqi refugees about the physical and psychological barriers which emerged between the Iraqi people after the US invasion, and the impact and role of the Arts in Palestine. Layla has spent time in Istanbul, Turkey, collecting sound bites and footage for a future documentary film on how Kurdish individuals assert their identity within Turkey. She hopes to continue creating art and media in order to promote alternative ways of viewing the world. You can see more of her work at https://laylakquran.wordpress.com.