16 November 2017

Lila Al-KassemAl Kassem Lila Small Brumley Scholar NextGen, dual degree junior in IRG and Government, is a Brumley NextGen Undergrad Scholar with the Robert Strauss Center. She and her fellow eleven Scholars take a class on policy development with Dr. Catherine Weaver, associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Lila talked with us recently about the class, her journey to international development and Middle Eastern Studies, and life post-graduation.

Strauss: You've been in Dr. Weaver's class for a few months now. What have you all covered, and what's next?

Lila: So far, we have discussed several aspects of policy making. We began the semester learning about the art of policy writing, policy analysis, and persuasive voice. We have been exercising these early lessons through writing our own policy proposals and reviewing each other's work.

Now, we are getting ready to plan our NGS Spring 2018 project. It will be similar to the Global Trends 2035 report, only crafted through the lens of what trends our generation believes to be important for the years to come. Just by hearing the array of topics and interests expressed by the other Scholars, I know that the report will be incredibly interesting and engaging.

SC: What has jumped out at you as being especially interesting or eye-opening about the class or what you’ve learned in it?

LA: My favorite part of the class is interacting with Dr. Weaver and with the rest of the Brumley Scholars. Being surrounded by other undergraduates who share the same passion for public policy is really a valuable experience. What I have learned in class is the importance of collaboration in policy making. For example, while we were writing our policy proposals, we were encouraged to voice constructive opinions about each other's work. I feel that our efforts to uplift each other and to respectfully take in each other's opinions has created a strong bond between us all. I have found that this bond is very important for self-improvement and for collaborating on larger projects within a group setting.

SC: What are your biggest challenges in this class?

LA: The biggest, but most valuable, challenge I have experienced is learning how to navigate my voice in a room filled with highly accomplished individuals. Our class is set up differently than an average undergraduate course, not only due to the smaller size, but also because it is largely based on group work and discussion. Learning how to adjust to this change was difficult at first, but extremely rewarding in the end. Now, I see that expressing my voice and hearing others' voices in the classroom has opened my eyes to how I feel about certain topics and to new perspectives. I now have a new appreciation for group collaboration and see the great benefits of group dynamics in the classroom.

SC: Tell us a little about your background that led to your interest in international development and Middle Eastern Studies. [Ed: Lila is minoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic]

LA: Although I was born in the United States, I actually spent most of my life abroad living in Amman, Jordan and travelling to various Middle East countries. Some of my most cherished memories are from my time living in the region. However, during my time there I recognized the conflict and corruption that directly affected the lives of my close friends, family members, and myself. Coming back to the States, I wanted to learn more about international development. I think my personal connection to the Middle East made me realize that I wanted to be a part of a greater change for the region, or really any other region experiencing similar situations.

SC: You worked in the summer of 2016 with University House for Consultations and Studies in Jordan interning as a Project Support Officer. Tell us a little about that.

LA: Working for the University House for Consultations & Studies (UniHouse) in Jordan was a wonderful experience. I primarily worked in UniHouse's consultancy department. UniHouse's services extended to international development projects in Iraq and Jordan. Our clients ranged from the Jordanian government to the United Nations Development Programme operations in Iraq. My work varied from day to day, but I primarily revised contracting documents and conducted research on items outlined on such contracts.

I also had the opportunity to work on a project with UniHouse's training services. The Zain Group, which is one of the largest telecommunications group in Jordan, asked us to create professional course training content for their employees. It was really great to be given freedom to determine what content should be included and how the course training should look like. I think my time at UniHouse gave me insight on the logistical side of development projects and taught me to be flexible with the various tasks I was given every day.

SC: And finally, of course, the usual question…what’s in the future for you?

LA: I hope to continue doing research with Innovations for Peace and Development and the Government Department until I graduate in May 2019. Although I am open to other possibilities, post-graduation I see myself working for a couple of years before continuing my studies in graduate school. I am interested to find a role that has components of international development and data analysis.

SC: Thanks for speaking with us Lila!