Students from UD's 2011 MEPI program met with UD program leaders at a conference in Jordan on March 1-5.

MEPI at UD

Enduring partnership in international education continues

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9 a.m., April 10, 2012--The mission statement of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) says it intends “to create vibrant partnerships between America and the citizens of the Middle East and North Africa to empower them to build more pluralistic, participatory, and prosperous societies throughout the region.”

Established in 2002, MEPI is a U.S. State Department funded-program that has contributed over $580 million to more than 680 projects in 18 countries.

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The University of Delaware has been energetically involved in the MEPI program since 2004.

The MEPI Student Leaders Program (MEPI-SLP) is a cultural exchange initiative designed to foster leadership skills and civic engagement aptitude among future leaders from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). UD has administered the program since its inception in 2004 and typically hosts between 18 and 22 students annually from across the region. 

Last summer, UD also was asked to administer a separate program for MEPI alumni, the MEPI Student Leaders Program on Persuasive Communication (PPPS), commonly referred to as “MEPI COMM.”

Through such efforts, UD has amassed an extensive MEPI alumni network of more than 100 students who have pursued careers in medicine, engineering and the non-profit sector. A number have returned to UD as employees, peer mentors and undergraduate students. 

Jordan conference held

A conference is held at the end of each MEPI session to wrap up the program and prepare students for the future. This past March at the Marriott hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan, students took part in a variety of academic sessions that included a seminar on how to write an effective curriculum vitae (CV), the connection between non-violent resistance and fostering the advancement of human dignity in the region, and panels that featured students who have effectuated their civic engagement initiatives.

“The conference represented a continuation of the students’ civic engagement projects, in which they embarked on creating a professional poster and presenting their work to their colleagues and representatives from the United States Embassy in Amman,” says Jon Keyser, administrative coordinator at UD’s Institute for Global Studies (IGS). His job includes overseeing the day-to-day operations of the MEPI program, assisting in the mentoring of students and representing UD at State Department-sponsored functions.  

The students (from the 2011 program) attending the conference were from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, Jordan and Yemen in the Middle East. Others were from Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria in North Africa. Any student from the greater Middle East region can apply to the program, according to Keyser.

Khouloud Maknin, from Tunisia, is working on her master’s degree in English and international relations at the Higher Institute of Human Sciences in Tunis. 

“During the program, I was learning from both sides -- the professors on the one hand and the students and staff members on the other hand. I learned that some of my biases were wrong,” Maknin notes. “I participated in civic engagement sessions where we visited different organizations and associations in Delaware such as the Latin American Community Center. I was inspired by MEPI to work for change in my community.”

The only student selected from Syria for the 2011 program was Obai Lahham, now a telecommunication and network engineer who resides in Saudi Arabia. “MEPI was an eye-opener for me,” he says. “It helped me learn how to deal with different cultures, diversities and ideas.”

MEPI taught him “to think out of the box, to think at the highest level and not just be a follower,” Lahham says. It was through MEPI that he was able to get his current job. “Recruiters look for employees who have leadership skills and are team workers.” 

Matthew Robinson, IGS director, notes, “It was truly rewarding to see the achievements of the MEPI participants. They are making a significant impact in their homelands. I want to especially thank all UD faculty and staff who contribute to make the program a success.”

Future plans

UD will host its ninth consecutive MEPI program this summer, welcoming 22 students from across the MENA region. The MEPI office recently extended the program from five weeks to six weeks, due to growing interest. 

Other universities that participate in the MEPI program alongside UD are Georgetown, Benedictine, Montana State and Roger Williams. Portland State University joins the group in 2012. 

For more information about the MEPI program at UD, visit this website. 

Article by Fariba Amini

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