Tag Archives: Converse College

Reflections on The Model Arab League Manual

CcdaDXRW0AIYtX2.jpg-largeToday, my dear friend Phil and I celebrate the publication of The Model Arab League Manual: A Guide To Preparation and Performance, published by Manchester University Press. This book has been in the making for over two years now, with our principle writing beginning in January 2014. At that point, I had been involved in the world of Model Arab League (MAL), a diplomatic simulation program sponsored by the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) geared at high school and college students that mimics the procedures of the Arab League, for roughly ten years. MAL fosters leadership, public speaking, and knowledge of the Arab world, with committees ranging from Social, Political, and Environmental Affairs to special topics on the Status of Women and Heads of State. If you had told me in 2004 that I would go on to be a national leader in this program, let alone coauthor the book on the program, I would have laughed. Hard.

“What’s Eritrea?” – this simple question began my involvement with the Model Arab League (MAL) program. A question that, I admit, shows my complete ignorance in the early days.

I began my studies of the Arab world in 2003 as a freshman member of Converse College’s then-called “Model League of Arab States” program. Unlike many of the illustrious women in Converse’s now almost 30-year program, my career did not begin as auspiciously as most. Having failed to secure a spot on our team during our tryouts, I was asked later to join the team by my adviser, Dr. Joe P. Dunn. I was thrown into a world of study that I now find myself defending my dissertation on, knowing as little then about the Arab world as most American freshmen. In that first academic year, I met some colleagues I still work with regularly, including Dr. Philip D’Agati, then just masters student Phil from Northeastern University, the former Secretary-General of the National Conference cum chair of the Ministers of the Interior (Political Affairs) Committee chair.

My position at that conference was glorified “gopher” for the secretariat, brought along with my team because we did not have a debating spot open. Instead, within minutes of the beginning of the conference, I found myself representing the entire delegation of Eritrea, splitting my time between Ministers of the Interior and the Arab Court of Justice. I had almost no time to prepare my country’s position and, I’ll admit, had no idea that my country even existed.

“What’s Eritrea?” has become a joke between myself and Phil, who, as the lead student for the Eritrean delegation the previous year, took it upon himself (along with a few other Northeastern University students) to brief me on everything I would need to know in the ten minutes he had to spare. Their willingness to step in to help a completely green delegate from an opposing delegation was my first experience with my MAL family. My head delegate, Josie Fingerhut (now Major Josie Shaheen, United States Army), told me to find Phil, whom I had never met before, and ask him about Eritrea. “What’s Eritrea?” was the wrong question to ask, which Phil pointed out immediately.

“It’s ‘Where’s Eritrea,’ and clearly we have a lot of work to do.”

Indeed.

That work, found in countless binders (this was before the days of laptops in committee and Wi-Fi access) that still grace my home office, has become a life’s project, and I still reference them when working on my courses and research. In fact, this program has touched parts of my life I never would have expected. When applying for my first job out of graduate school in 2010, the person doing my interview for a communications position at the First Presbyterian Church of Athens, Georgia saw Model Arab League on my resume. “If you thrived in that program, you can handle anything we’ll throw at you,” she said. The reputation of the MAL program, which as students we help to form through our involvement, exists outside of political science programs and university campuses.

I got the job.

The value of this program can be seen in the lives of both the students I matriculated with and those I have since advised. The MAL program, and NCUSAR, has afforded us all so many opportunities, including summer Arabic language study in the region and specialized two-week fellowships to individual member states. Alums of the program have gone on to work for the United States military, NGOs, the State Department, and yes, even to careers in academia studying the region. Upon attending the 2013 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, I was delighted to see so many nametags, mine included, proudly displaying “Alumni” ribbons.

While pursuing my Ph.D. at Virginia Tech, I began a small program with our political science undergrads, bringing two students, Rachel Kirk and Elizabeth Womack, to the 2012 Southeast Regional Model Arab League. Our fledgling partial delegation, which managed somehow to come in seventh when only present in three of the eight committees, led to the reestablishment of the Regional and International Organizations program at Virginia Tech, for which I taught the corresponding course and served as faculty adviser.

From 2003-2012, I held nearly every position possible in the world of Model Arab League: delegate, justice, vice-chair, regional chair, national Chief Justice, and faculty adviser. Only a few others from our student ranks can say the same, and in 2012, I was awarded the NCUSAR “Model Arab League Lifetime Achievement Award” – not too shabby for someone who still is not quite 30 (though one does wonder from time to time if one has peaked when achieving a Lifetime Achievement Award before even graduating from their Ph.D. program).

Virginia Tech Delegation at CARMAL

Virginia Tech’s 2013 MAL Delegation winning awards in every committee at the Capital Area Regional MAL.

If someone had told me freshman year that I would end up being the faculty adviser for a MAL team, let alone would receive an award for my service to this program, I doubt I would have believed them. It was only through participating in the Model Arab League program that I developed the skills necessary to hold this position, and for the experiences Joe Dunn, Dr. John Duke Anthony, and others have granted me, I am forever grateful. I cannot describe the pride I experienced as my students prepared for the 2013 Capital Area Regional Model Arab League conference, nor the utter joy I felt when  they earned their first “Best Delegation” award, sweeping individual awards in every single committee. This is why I sought to start a team at Virginia Tech—to help give students the same opportunities that have helped shape me into the academic I am now.

The Model Arab League Manual is the culmination of over decade’s joys and frustrations, all shared with one of the best colleagues I’ve ever had. Thank you so much to Manchester University Press, NCUSAR, and all of our former students and colleagues who helped us delve through mountains of paperwork, PDFs, and archival research to make this book a reality.

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Converse College Lowers Tuition 43%–And Makes This Alumna Proud

As a child of the (soon to be talked about, if current colleagues are correct) student loan bubble generation, the news from Converse College about their 43 percent cut in tuition is the right step in making my alma mater affordable once again.  This tuition cut actually brings the overall cost of attendance down to below what it was when I matriculated in 2003.

When I applied in 2002, going to a single-gender institution was not remotely my dream.  My father’s coworker was an alumna of Converse, and Converse allows for free applications if they are signed by a former student.  Saying no to a free college application was not an option, given the overall costs of the application process.  Other schools on my list were Providence, USC-Columbia, and Mary Baldwin, so between application fees and forwarding SAT scores, the cost was getting up there.

Converse was at the bottom of my list for a long time.  What changed my mind was meeting with alumnae and former president Nancy Oliver Gray, one of the most amazing women I have ever met.  The warmth I received from these women shocked me, and as I learned more about the small class sizes and the family feel of Converse, I knew that USC was not for me.

I started Converse off well, financially.  I had earned a $16,000 a year honor scholarship and another $5000 a year from South Carolina’s LIFE scholarship.  My student loans to make up the difference were minimal by comparison (at least, by comparison to what they would be by the end of my three years at Converse) to the sheer benefit I was receiving.  At that time, my parents were in a position to help with some of the costs, and the decision to go seemed justified.

From L to R:  Chelsey Boggs ('09), Leland Bridges ('07), Josie Fingerhut Shaheen ('05), Me ('06), Dr. Jeff Poelvoorde, Daniela Burrows Cuddington ('09), and Molly Smith Kellam ('07).  Together again at my wedding, May 15, 2011, nearly 5 years to the day after I graduated from Convrse.

From L to R: Chelsey Boggs (’09), Leland Bridges (’07), Josie Fingerhut Shaheen (’05), Me (’06), Dr. Jeff Poelvoorde, Daniela Burrows Cuddington (’09), and Molly Smith Kellam (’07). Together again at my wedding, May 15, 2011, nearly 5 years to the day after I graduated from Converse.

At Converse, I met the women in my life to whom I am still closest.  I joined Model Programs and traveled to Jordan on study-abroad.  I served as an Appeals Board representative and worked in Summer Programs.  I loved my three years there, and my only regret is that it was only three years.

As tuition prices skyrocketed around the country, Converse was no exception.  The pre-crash boom affected us all.  In a math class I took senior year, one of the assignments we had involved calculating rate of inflation.  I remember being appalled that tuition and fees, should the current rate of inflation of tuition remain constant, would be over $70,000 by the time my fictional daughters might start applying.  For my own part, between a several thousand dollar hike in overall costs coupled with losing my LIFE scholarship because my residency changed, the amount of loans I would have had to take out to stay at Converse my senior year became prohibitive.

My junior-actually-senior year, I made the decision to graduate early.  I have not regretted making the financial decision, but I do regret the year I lost.  The decision forced me to have to drop my double major back to a major and a minor.  While I had been accepted to UGA’s Masters program in Religion, I still had to take 22 hours my last semester to have the right amount of credits to graduate.  As you can imagine, my grades from that last semester of overwork are the reason I lost my cum laude status.

Students should not get halfway through college only to have their financial ability to finish taken away from them.  They should not have to make the choice between debt and pursuing their ideal major(s).  They should not have to immediately not consider a college that they could thrive at simply because of sticker price.

I am sure I am one of many recent alumnae staring at our bills, wishing that the decision had been made sooner.  But Converse was not alone in having/choosing to raise its tuition over the last decade.  Anyone that graduated in the aughts knows this to be true.  Converse is one of the first (see also Sewanee, Ashland, Concordia, and Seton Hall) to dramatically lower its tuition prices and, unlike some others, is doing so from a position of growth and strength.  Converse’s undergraduate enrollment is higher than it has been in years, and its capital campaign has led to the building of several new dormitories (and the renovation of others) as well as a brand new field house for our sports program.  With such marked growth in freshman class size over the last three years, it would have be an easy decision to continue charging the same amount of tuition.  But it would not be the right thing to do for Converse’s future students.  I am proud, so proud, of Converse for recognizing that the entire reason they exist is to provide top-notch educational opportunities to students without harming them or their families financially.  Well done, Converse.  Well done.