UW News

October 16, 2003

Graduate students receive 10K each for good deeds beyond campus

News and Information

Two recently designated “scholar-citizens” are receiving support from brand new graduate fellowships this fall.

The first Graduate School Medalists have received one-year $10,000 fellowships, honoring their exceptional achievements — integrating their academic expertise with social awareness in a way that promotes political, cultural or social change.

Maha El-Taji

“We believe these students have demonstrated an especially strong commitment to seeking new approaches and innovative solutions to some of our region’s and the world’s most intractable problems,” says Marsha Landolt, dean and vice provost of The Graduate School. The awards are one way the Graduate School can shine the spotlight on the way doctoral recipients can have an impact beyond the campus, she says.

Selina Mohammed, a graduate student in nursing, has worked on the Navajo Reservation since 1994 as a doctoral student, but her experience on the reservation actually began as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati. Her research explores how culture, historical and political contexts, and socialization shape Navajo beliefs and practices concerning diabetes. “The Navajo don’t have the same beliefs as Western medicine regarding diabetes, which affects their willingness to take medicine for the disease,” says Mohammed. Once these beliefs are better understood and interpreted, Mohammed hopes to be able to improve diabetes treatment and educational materials.

In addition to her work on the reservation, Mohammed has volunteered as a family nurse practitioner at the Seattle Indian Health Board. She plans to continue her education with a postdoctoral position at the University of Michigan, and her career plans include entering the professoriat. “My research, I am sure, will always involve working with Native Americans,” she says.

Maha El-Taji was born as a Palestinian refugee. After receiving a law degree, she worked as an assistant attorney general with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. But she decided to pursue a graduate degree that would permit her to explore and more fully understand the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Near and Middle Eastern studies, El-Taji combines her background in law and political science to study the issue of how local governments navigate their relationship with an ethnic state. Witnessing almost daily conflicts between the two groups, El-Taji observes, “I have learned that no one particular ethnic group has a monopoly on atrocities and that anyone is capable of committing crimes against humanity.”

El-Taji is currently in Israel, finishing her dissertation research. Her research focuses on the Arab Local Councils, which provide Palestinian citizens in Israel with services such as education, garbage collection, street paving and community centers. She is studying why the councils are not functioning well, analyzing the internal and external factors that prevent them from serving their community.

When El-Taji completes her doctoral work, “I’d like to teach at a place where I would be expected to research and write but where the emphasis would be on teaching,” She says. She’d like to start a program where she would take students to the Middle East for a quarter or semester every one or two years. “In having such a program students would be able to take courses relevant to the area but would also get a chance to hear the language, live the culture, and have an unforgettable and transformative experience.”

In addition to the monetary award, Graduate School Medalists receive a medal designed by Julia Harrison, a graduate student in the School of Art and now president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. Harrison and two other graduate students, Nanz Aalund and Mollie Montgomery, created the medal under the direction of Mary Hu, professor of metals in the School of Art, technician James McMurray and Christopher Ozubko, director of the school. The design inspiration for the medal, according to Harrison is the intricate stonework of Suzzallo Library.