FLAS Fellows

United States Department of Education Middle East Center Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowship Awardees

Learn more about Middle East Center FLAS Fellowships

Academic Year 2017-18

Undergraduate Awardees

Oliver LangOliver Lang (Arabic) is majoring in International Studies and is interested in Islam in the Middle East and Europe. He would like to research the changing dynamics of Muslim fiqh authorities within the political and legal structure of their societies, post-Arab Spring, especially within context of the large diaspora of Muslim refugees in Europe. Oliver’s ultimate goal is to research the implications of developments in legal discourse for US foreign policy and to use this expertise working for the State Department and/or through graduate study. His FLAS fellowship will help him pursue an immersive study of Arabic to understand the ideas in the traditional Arabic canon as well as modern media.

Olga LaskinOlga Laskin (Hebrew) is an International Studies and Economics major with minors in Political Science and Human Rights who is interested in pursuing diplomatic work in the Middle East, specifically in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. She was born in Jerusalem after her family immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1991. Her experiences in Israel growing up motivated her to pursue these fields of study, because she believes they are critical in developing a beneficial two-state solution. Olga hopes to work in the Middle East either with a peace-promoting NGO or in a US embassy to understand more of the issues on the ground and work on tangible solutions.

Matthew Manner (Arabic) is majoring in Mathematics and is interested in a career in military intelligence and national security. He is an Air Force ROTC cadet and chose to study Arabic because of its challenging nature and relevance. After graduating from college, Matthew will take advantage of the resources offered in the military to continue to hone his Arabic skills, such as the Department of Defense’s Defense Language Institute. Matthew also wants to study abroad in the Middle East while at the University of Washington. Eventually, he would like to use his Arabic skills in real-world applications.


Graduate Awardees

Vincent CalvettiVincent G. Calvetti (Arabic) is an Interdisciplinary Near and Middle Eastern Studies Ph.D. student whose research focuses on the interaction between the Israeli state and Mizrahi Jewish communities. His current project examines the renewed controversy in Israel over what has become known as the Yemenite Babies Affair, in which he is examining declassified files to think about models of accountability, reparations, and reconciliation in multicultural immigrant societies. His goal is to pursue an academic career working with think-tanks involved with civil society efforts. Vincent hopes that his research will benefit those working for justice and reconciliation on the ground in Israel and Palestine as well as around the world.

 Melinda CohoonMelinda Cohoon (Arabic) is a recent graduate of the Middle East Studies program at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and is entering the Near and Middle Eastern Studies Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program this fall. Her dissertation research will use colloquial Arabic as a tool to study minority video gamers in the Persian Gulf and the political sphere of video games. She is also deeply interested in studying digital media and how it concerns metadata and contemporary issues in the Middle East. After she receives her Ph.D., Melinda would like to pursue a career as a professor in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Russell Guajardo (Turkish) is pursuing a Masters in Middle East Studies with a focus on Turkey at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, where he hopes to advance his understanding of Turkish politics and foreign policy. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Stanford University, Russell moved to Washington, D.C. to research US-Turkey relations with a large business-focused NGO. He later taught English in Turkey on a Fulbright Scholarship. After completing his Masters, Russell plans to pursue a career in the US Foreign Service and someday attain a university teaching and research position to inspire a new generation to work in public service and Turkish Studies.

Leah O’Bryant (Arabic) is pursuing a Masters of Social Work at the University of Washington, with a focus on using cross-cultural practices to work with immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, especially youth who have experienced trauma. Over the last four years, Leah has helped develop, expand, and run an organization called Awareness and Prevention Through Art (aptART). Her FLAS fellowship will give her the Arabic language skills necessary to develop closer relationships with the Arabic-speaking youth she works with. Ultimately, her goal is to create a therapeutic space for youth to use their voices to fight for a more just and secure world.

Heather Rodriguez (Arabic) is an M.A. student in Middle East Studies at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. She is interested in studying the historiography, cultures, and languages of the Middle East to discover a richer explanation for modern day issues. Her long-term goal is to become a professor in Near Eastern, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the university level. Rodriguez’ ultimate goal is to encourage future students to “unpack” the conflicts in the Middle East by analyzing and questioning their sources.

Maral Sahebjame (Arabic) is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies. Maral is interested in examining gender and law discourses in Muslim-majority socities. She hopes to improve her Arabic skills to access sources that will aid her ethnographic research in revealing narratives of gender and desire in the modern Middle East. Her career goal is to attain a position in a non-profit organization or an international agency in the U.S., where she can contribute to strengthening Americans’ understanding of the region.

Summer 2017

Undergraduate Awardees

Elizabeth Bernbaum (Arabic) is a double major in Political Science and Physics. She plans to become active in both American and international politics, where she hopes to work to protect human rights and the lives of the most marginalized. She is particularly interested in the Middle East, and she aspires to become an ambassador or to work in the White House where she can build ties through diplomacy and open minds to cultural understanding.

Hannah Jolibois (Arabic) is pursuing a dual degree in International Studies, Jackson School and Public Health, School of Public Health. Her career goals are aimed at improving global healthcare policy by integrating science, technology, and healthcare within an interconnected and politically driven world. She is particularly interested in the Middle East and how needed healthcare can be distributed without the aid of formal governments or institutions. Her professional goal is to work with both governmental agencies and NGOs to address the Syrian migration crises.

Geordie MacLearnsberry (Hebrew) is majoring in Linguistics. He will be increasing his mastery of Hebrew as part of his broader studies as a linguistics major. He plans summer study in Israel where the diversity of languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, Ladino, Russian, and Amharic provides a unique setting for encountering the interface of cultures and languages in close proximity and provides an ideal arena for linguistic and language study. He is considering possible career paths that include computational linguistics or the recently developing field of NanoSyntax to design an Advanced Language Machine that can interpret human language; as well as the possibility of working in a government agency such as the State Department.

Graduate Awardees

Natalie Hoge

Natalie Hoge (Arabic) is pursuing her Masters in Health Services/Community Oriented Public Health Practice. Her goal is to become an effective advocate and promoter of health for refugee, asylum-seeking, and displaced populations. Natalie lived in Germany, where she conducted research examining asylum-seeker and refugee health care experiences in order to help them navigate the German health care system and provide them with improved access to health care services. By learning Arabic and increasing her understanding of Arab culture, she expects to be equipped to more thoroughly and directly assess health status, needs, wants, and resources—an essential step in community health development. This will position her to more effectively convey policy and public health program priorities as initiated by community members.

Sara Molaie (Hebrew) is pursuing her Masters in Comparative Religion in the Jackson School. As a member of the minority Baha’i community in Iran where she grew up, Molaie has had to overcome many challenges. After she immigrated to the United States in 2009, she focused her post-secondary education on religious studies in an effort to contribute to raising awareness of the possibilities for multi-cultural coexistence. Her career goal is to work for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in order to increase of public knowledge and awareness of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Menosh Zalmai-Appl (Arabic) is pursuing a Masters in Social Work in the School of Social Work. She plans to support Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugees and immigrants from Arabic-speaking nations as they arrive in the United States and seek social services to integrate into society. She first visited Syria in 2010, before the war, to work with Syrian and Iraqi youth and improve her Arabic. Now, as refugees are arriving in US neighborhoods, she feels the responsibility to ensure that they are respected and provided with quality services so that they can thrive in their new homeland. As a refugee herself from Afghanistan, she understands clearly the support and advocacy that refugee populations need and the lack of social workers available who can communicate in Arabic and are able to provide culturally sensitive resources.