Under the umbrella of Pre-University Education, the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) offers its students a unique and effective transition between high school and university. Since the Program’s inception in 2001, hundreds of students have graduated successfully to go on to renowned universities in Qatar and abroad. In this column, we run a series of their profiles, highlighting their academic, professional, and personal achievements, and the role their ABP education has played in them. We want to present portraits of young people, ABP alumni, Qatari and non-Qatari, male and female, fully engaged with their studies or work, serving their community and their country in various ways – who are a testimony to ABP’s teaching competence and lasting impact. Here they tell their stories, speaking about their ABP experiences, university studies, professional practice, hobbies, dreams and passions.
Eman Al Kuwari attended the Academic Bridge Program in the academic year 2009-10. Before the ABP, she completed an IB program in a high school in Doha, and decided to pursue a technical degree in college. She was so focused on her plan, she admits, that she had set her heart on only one university and, when she was not offered a place there, had nowhere to go. Travelling abroad was not an option since she preferred to stay close to her family.
Eman was directed to the ABP and decided it was the best path for her to refine her language and academic skills while giving her a chance to apply to other universities in Qatar. Additionally, the ABP seemed a particularly attractive choice given that it is an integral part of Education City operating in close collaboration with EC universities.
She says, “the reason I ended up in the ABP was because I had limited myself to a certain field, however, meeting all the inspiring teachers in the ABP and finally coming across math teachers who cared made all the difference”. The ABP experience inspired her to go beyond her initial technical degree plans. It also taught her to challenge herself and continue learning. She realized that “the only limits we have are the ones we create for ourselves”.
Eman appreciates now that in the ABP she got to boost and refine her skills in a short period of time and was able to revisit simple yet important details that slipped away during her high school years. She says: “Although I had a very strong grasp of the English language, the ABP English program helped me to solidify my knowledge by revisiting the basics”, and adds that it’s usually the foundational academic skills that may be taken for granted during school years, and revisiting them before university can surely be to one’s great advantage.
During her two semesters in the ABP, Eman also “thoroughly enjoyed the literature classes and novels we studied”. She says that reading is something she has always enjoyed, and was fortunate enough to continue studying it at the Bridge Program.”
As a result of her ABP studies, she was admitted into Carnegie Mellon University in Education City. She graduated with a BSc in Information systems and a minor in Architecture which is an interesting combination, showing her creativity as well as foresight of the things to come: “The combination of my major and minor didn’t make a lot of sense at the time, but now it’s becoming extremely handy with the establishment of smart cities around the world and now Qatar establishing its very own program to become a Smart Nation”, she says.
Eman is currently working at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, in the Digital Society sector. She is involved in one of the most interesting government projects, Tasmu Smart Qatar, and participated in a pilot project with the Ministry’s own Innovation Lab, testing an autonomous drone delivery use case.
She is clearly excited about her professional path and speaks enthusiastically about her job and emerging projects and ideas: “Also, part of my work is a project focused on raising awareness and starting a conversation in the community about digital ethics and values people carry from the real world to the virtual world. This has resulted in publishing a guideline focusing on three values for ethics in the digital world”. She is convinced that Qatari youth should be able “to create whatever they imagine and master modern day skills of programming and using fabrication machines” and that is why she is leading and will soon be launching the Ministry’s own digital Makers Space for young people in Qatar.
And yes, she does have interests outside of work! She has recently started learning a third foreign language… Truly, Eman Al Kuwari should be an inspiration to many current and future ABP students.
Hissa studied in the ABP in the academic year 2011-12, because her dream of studying engineering in the UK did not work out. She did not want to waste a year doing nothing, so she applied to the ABP. She quickly realized that it was the right decision:
“The ABP helped me with a lot! For starters, I thought I wanted TAMUQ when I applied and I was stuck with physics as my science course. It was only later on that I realized it might not be a wise choice. My epiphany happened when I got a C for an assignment in my Academic Composition class. I was called in by my teacher to discuss my assignment, and was told that it was not my best work and I was capable of much better writing. We had a talk in her office that day and I remember mentioning that physics was taking a lot of my time since I found it one of the most challenging subjects. At the time, I was still thinking I would pursue engineering, but my teacher passionately argued with me trying to convince me that it might not be the best career choice for me. It was a moment where she really showed me that teachers at the ABP are not there just to teach, but also to understand their students and their hidden potential. If it weren't for that emotional moment in her office I would have ended up holding a degree I didn't want and dreading a job I didn’t like. Instead, I have just finished putting together a list of a 100 books I'll be reading in the next few months, loving every moment of it. And that’s because she pushed me to discover and follow my passion, which is literature.”
Hissa adds that the ABP taught her many practical writing skills, including a crucial one for a serious writer, the skill to cite sources. “The ability to use citations was essential when I pursued my studies at NUQ. Thanks to the ABP I knew not only how it had to be done, but also why. I had to do citations for all the work I submitted during my time at NUQ, and I also used referencing as a way to find sources from other academic works”, she explains. Another important quality she found in her ABP studies was that it taught her academic “discipline, order and a clear understanding of the university life” she was about to begin.
Hissa graduated with a degree in Journalism and is now working at QNB in the PR Department. She has travelled and read extensively and is considering a career in writing and university teaching and research:
“Although my concentration at NUQ was literature as it is my passion and the field of study I want to take further down the line. I have chosen to work at QNB with my NUQ degree for multiple reasons. I hold a PR certificate from NUQ as I've taken the PR courses required for that degree; this has helped me tremendously during the first few months here at QNB. In a way, this is the beginning of my career, but I plan on changing fields. In a few years’ time, I want to move to academia and pursue a higher degree to teach as a college professor. I couldn't be more proud of myself that I am now holding a degree from NUQ in Journalism, planning my future to pursue a higher degree and to teach and someday be to someone what my ABP Composition teacher was to me.”
Alyaa joined the Academic Bridge Program in 2015 as a dual-enrollment student. It meant that she had been accepted at Northwestern University in Qatar on the condition of successfully completing a foundation year at the ABP. She says now that it was a great stepping stone on the way to college.
“I strongly believe that joining the ABP helped in preparing me for the amount and nature of the work that is required from us as university students. Additionally, some of the courses that were offered at ABP—like communication and literature—were hugely helpful in teaching me important skills, such as the ability to properly cite sources, as well as critical thinking skills which every university student should acquire.”
Currently a sophomore at NUQ, Alyaa is studying journalism, but she is passionate about literature and reads avidly. She traces this interest back to the Academic Bridge Program:
“I had an epiphany in my literature class there, when I realized that I truly and sincerely enjoyed literature. Without the ABP, I don’t think I would have ever realized that. I am very grateful for this opportunity and for the chance to study and experience what it is like to be an ABP student.”
Alyaa says she is “fairly adaptable to any kind of subject that I am exposed to. I can easily engage in different materials and activities”. This kind of mental and academic flexibility, first developed in the ABP, has helped Alyaa achieve success at a university level.
“Mutassim made me want to enhance my skills in Excel, and seek more knowledge about programming. Outside of class, I was active in the Debating and Model United Nations clubs because I enjoyed public speaking. I also joined the ABP Newsletter Club to enhance my reporting and writing skills by testing them on a big audience.Therefore, with the ABP, I learned that my academic and applied interests were diverse, shaped by mathematics, technology, as well as writing and delivery.” As a result of her ABP studies, Ameena realized that her initial university choice did not fully reflect her true talents and interests. She now wanted to include mathematics in her college education because she discovered she loved it as much as she did social sciences. She applied and was admitted to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to study Business Administration and chose a track in Marketing with a minor in Professional Writing. She found the Business program exciting and enjoyable, especially that “it was almost a requirement to enroll in classes outside of your major”. She used it as an opportunity to join “a politics class at Georgetown, two history classes, a design class, and a chemistry class” – on top of the mandatory business- and economics-related courses. She successfully graduated from CMU in May 2015 and followed that with a Master’s degree) in Audiovisual Translation earned at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). She finished her graduate studies in May 2017.
All that could not have been achieved without the ABP, Ameena says. It helped her redefine and nurture her interests and abilities in a way that enabled her to choose the right university and experience. Currently, Ameena is a Governance Officer at QF’s Board Management Office: “My core work is to write minutes of meetings and research briefs. I sometimes take on projects that would facilitate learning and access to various materials produced by our office, such as designing annual reports and enhancing archiving practices”. Her real passion lies in music: “I sometimes spend my free-time editing audio of existing songs”, she says. Even though she is not a professional, it gives her enormous pleasure and satisfaction.
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As a result of her ABP studies, Ameena realized that her initial university choice did not fully reflect her true talents and interests. She now wanted to include mathematics in her college education because she discovered she loved it as much as she did social sciences. She applied and was admitted to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to study Business Administration and chose a track in Marketing with a minor in Professional Writing. She found the Business program exciting and enjoyable, especially that “it was almost a requirement to enroll in classes outside of your major”. She used it as an opportunity to join “a politics class at Georgetown, two history classes, a design class, and a chemistry class” – on top of the mandatory business- and economics-related courses. She successfully graduated from CMU in May 2015 and followed that with a Master’s degree) in Audiovisual Translation earned at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). She finished her graduate studies in May 2017.
All that could not have been achieved without the ABP, Ameena says. It helped her redefine and nurture her interests and abilities in a way that enabled her to choose the right university and experience.
Currently, Ameena is a Governance Officer at QF’s Board Management Office: “My core work is to write minutes of meetings and research briefs. I sometimes take on projects that would facilitate learning and access to various materials produced by our office, such as designing annual reports and enhancing archiving practices”.
Her real passion lies in music: “I sometimes spend my free-time editing audio of existing songs”, she says. Even though she is not a professional, it gives her enormous pleasure and satisfaction.
Abdulrahman Al Malki joined the ABP in August 2012. He says he knew then that the Program would help him develop his academic skills, particularly academic writing, to prepare him effectively for university. While at the ABP, he also significantly increased his IELTS score, which broadened his choice of university options.
He decided to go to the UK where he pursued a degree in media, communication and society at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. He enjoyed his studies immensely and finished them on a high note writing a dissertation about journalism in Qatar. As a recent university graduate, he came back home in June 2017, ready and eager to start his professional life – which he did, in an organization already close to his heart.
Re-visiting his former teachers in the ABP in September 2017, he proudly shows off his brand new QF badge: “I'm now working in Qatar Career Development Center (QCDC) under Qatar Foundation. The center’s aim is to educate and guide local school students about careers and help them understand the working field”, he says. Abdulrahman is excited about this opportunity and talks about his new responsibilities with contagious enthusiasm. But, inspiring though it is, there is more to him than just work. He reveals an unexpected side to his life, which stems from a great passion and a unique skill.
He tells his story: “Earlier this year, in February, when I was still at university, I was introduced to specialty coffee and was amazed by the preparation process. Coffee and milk never tasted this great: no sugar, no syrup, no fillers. I kept going back for more. Finally, I decided to take a couple of basic courses while I was still in Nottingham. I wanted to learn how to make coffee myself. It was so interesting and not at all easy!”
Last summer in Qatar, Abdulrahman, a fresh graduate, was offered a chance to train and work as… a barista at Flat White in the Pearl: “The chance came at a perfect time considering that I was mostly free and had nothing to do before starting a full time job at QF. After a couple of days of being a barista I realized that I absolutely loved it. It is hard and challenging, but I really enjoy it, even though I can only work part-time now, on a voluntary basis, in my spare time during weekends or in the evening, since I have a full-time job. When I am behind the espresso machine, I am happy and I know that it may be a cheesy thing to say, but it is true. Some people may see me making and serving coffee and think, wow he is being an inspiration for others, but I really don't consider myself being inspirational, I am simply having fun and being happy doing what I love doing. I'm doing it because I enjoy it. So if I were to give advice to young people, it wouldn't be like 'go and work a pink collar job', but rather do what makes you happy and enjoy life.”
His advice – based on his personal experience – will surely resonate with the youngsters he works within QF. His enthusiasm, modesty, and humble attitude are in fact an inspiration – and not just to young people, but to all who know him. His former ABP teachers are certainly very proud of him and the Flat White is a busy place.
Abdulrahman’s Instagram page
Sarwar Sultani was one of three Afghan students admitted into the ABP in 2006, on a special scholarship from HH Sheikha Moza. Here is his story in his own words: “I joined ABP mainly in order to improve my TOEFL and SAT score. I had a bit of a rough start. Having completed my primary and secondary school in some of the least developed countries, I had no familiarity with western/modern education system. Although I was familiar with the TOEFL exam, I had never heard about SAT and ACT tests. ABP was my only chance for understanding the modern education system, improving my standardized test scores and academic skills. The Program literally became a bridge that linked my high school education to university.
After spending a year at ABP, I was admitted to Georgetown School of Foreign Service (SFS) in Doha, Qatar. This was an extraordinary achievement and would not have been possible without the guidance and support from ABP teachers. Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar is all about reading and writing and I had only very basic reading skills and nearly zero writing skills to start with. The academic work load at ABP made a huge difference, improving my TOEFL and SAT scores that eventually got me the offer of admission from SFS. I must mention that ABP is not just about classes. The extracurricular activities like Debating and Model UN play an equally important role.”
At Georgetown’s SFS-Q, Sarwar studied International Relations and earned a certificate in American Studies. After he graduated, he went back to his home country, Afghanistan, where he spent a year working for an international organization responsible for capacity building in Afghanistan, until a scholarship from the Open Society Foundation enabled him to study for an MA. He chose the University of York in the UK and wrote his Master’s dissertation on post-war reconstruction and development, entitled Peace Process between the Afghan Government and the Neo-Taliban: An Alternative Strategy for Reaching Political Objectives.
In 2013, he was offered an opportunity to join Princeton University as a Visiting Student Research Collaborator, a challenging but stimulating experience. He interacted with renowned scholars and presented talks on the situation in Afghanistan at Princeton’s Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, where he spent some time working with Wolfgang Danspeckgruber and Michael Barry on projects related to elections and democratic governance in Afghanistan.
With his MA degree in hand, he returned to Kabul, Afghanistan, and started working for the American University of Afghanistan. He spent three years there, getting involved in the election campaign of President Ashraf Ghani. After Ghani’s victory, encouraged by his employers and family alike, Sarwar decided to apply for a doctorate. In 2016, he received a Fulbright Scholarship for pursuing PhD studies in the United States. He is currently in his second year at Rutgers University. Who knows, maybe one day, he will be a presidential candidate himself in his home country?
Sarwar has an optimistic vision of a more politically successful, modern, and peaceful, Afghanistan and is working very hard to make it come true. He still remembers his ABP years as some of the most formative time of his life. He believes that “Behind every successful ABP student, there is a successful teacher. I am very grateful to many teachers, but especially to Mr. Wayne Schlegel who did not give up on my extremely poor academic writing skills. I had to revise my personal statement probably more than 20 times. I might be exaggerating. But, it was certainly worth it…” Yes, it was!
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He explains why he joined the ABP: “Initially, I never thought of studying at the ABP and never even thought to apply. It was just around the end of May 2016, in my last year of high school, that I came to know about the ABP through a friend, Mohammed. He encouraged me to apply for admission to the Program with him, since neither of us were ready to attend university. I felt I needed something that would enable me to transition not just to any university, but to a top university here, in Qatar. It was a major challenge! I felt that my high school did not equip me with sufficient confidence, academic skills, and most importantly, the ability to think critically. I knew I had to gain all those somehow to be accepted at a renowned university. But where? The ABP was the best option. That is why I ended up applying to the ABP. I must say I never regretted this decision, not even once. The one year I spent as an ABP student was worth the three years I had spent studying in high school.”
Reflecting on his ABP experience, Ahmad remarks that one of the most important skills that he learnt here is how to be a good time-manager. Effective time-management is a key ingredient of success at university where “You need to be able to manage your time wisely in order to get your work done. This also applies to your professional life, so the benefits of solid time-management skills are long-lasting”, he says. Some other essential skills he developed while studying in the ABP include note-making and the ability to communicate in an academic style, conducting presentations, participating in seminars and discussions. He admits that he struggled trying to keep up his grades during the first semester, but soon got used to the rigorous ABP system and gradually fine-tuned his learning methods to obtain the best results. His advice is to take it slow, ask teachers for help, and “you will be fine”, he smiles. He ended up so ‘fine’, in fact, that he was offered admission to two universities: Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon.
The most important thing for Ahmad was that the ABP helped him to choose the university path best suited to his talents and interests. “Thanks to the monthly workshops that the ABP sets up, the assistance it offers to help students through academic counseling, information materials, and collaboration with Education City universities”, Ahmad discovered he had a passion for Information Systems, wanted to study it, felt he was good at it and able to do well. Encouraged by the ABP, he chose CMU. And this is what still makes him smile – he is a happy university student who made the right choice.
Ahmad has a final message for the current and prospective ABP students: “My dear fellow students, one last comment that I would like to make is, be competitive, be engaged, be problem solvers, time managers. don’t forget to have some fun, because at the ABP, you will learn the true meaning of fun when you are in class, with your colleagues and your teacher, and discover the joy of learning and secure your own bright future!”