Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Student Life Begins to Boom in SFS-Q’s Infant Years

Dana Abu Hilich (SFS ’09) remembers when she and her other classmates at the School of Foreign Service in Doha, Qatar used to gather together in one classroom – the only classroom on campus.

It wasn’t too long ago, either.

“I’m a member of the inaugural class, and I still remember having all of our classes in a single classroom,” Hilich said, reflecting back three years ago. “There are a lot more students now, and a lot more classrooms.”

When SFS-Q opened in 2005, it welcomed a class of only 25 students and a staff and faculty of 26. The facilities were, at best, meager: one classroom in the Liberal Arts and Sciences Building and one student lounge.

Today, SFS-Q occupies half of the LAS building with over 100 faculty and staff and around 140 total students, while sharing the facility with the five other universities. The LAS building is located in the part of Doha known as “Education City,” a 2,500-acre complex that serves as the hub of higher education and research in Qatar. SFS-Q currently has the largest library in Qatar that is open to other students and the wider community.

Brendan Hill, an assistant dean for student affairs at SFS-Q, said the school plans to break ground on its own building in Education City this November and has hopes it will be completed by spring 2010.

Yet, even amidst this growth, the school has increasingly found strength in its smaller size and more intimate learning environment. The classes at SFS-Q are the same as ones offered on the main campus, and most of the professors have previously taught on the Hilltop, but with a student-teacher ratio of 6:1, as opposed to the 11:1 main campus ratio as reported by the Princeton Review, classes in Qatar have a much more intimate dynamic.

“My favorite memories are the debates and discussions we so frequently have inside and outside of class. Since our student body is so small, we quickly become comfortable discussing any topic, no matter how controversial it is,” Elisabeth Kent (SFS ’11) said.

But being a small campus in Doha has its restrictions. Hill said the school is incrementally increasing its class size but plans to eventually cap each class size at 50 (for a total student body size of 200) due to the limited space allocated to the school in Education City.

Kevin Ferra, a recruitment and retention officer at SFS-Q, talked about one of the other challenges the nascent institution has had to face: supporting an environment in Doha that encourages professors to move there and bring their families with them.

“Moving to a foreign country is difficult,” he said. “If [spouses and children] are not happy, then your [recruited faculty or staff members] are not going to be happy. Our job is to make sure everyone is happy with the decision to move to Doha.”

And yet, as far from the Hilltop as it is, SFS-Q has maintained its ties with its sister campus in Washington. In February, the two schools launched Global Classroom, a way for one class at Georgetown can meet another in Doha. The Global Classroom, located in New North, is a specially designed room that allows life-size images and sounds to be transmitted to a similar classroom at SFS-Q within seconds.

“The main campus will be able to benefit from expertise that we have in Doha through the use of the Global Classroom,” Hill said. “The Global Classroom links the main campus and SFS-Q through video conferencing to bring the two campuses together. It’s amazing. It’s exactly like they are in person.”

Perhaps even more than facilities or manpower, the Doha school at first lacked a sense of student life that many universities take for granted. One year after opening in 2005, there were still no student organizations at SFS-Q except for the International Relations Club.

“SFS-Q’s strongest point is also its largest weakness,” Kent said. “The student population is still very small.”

Since then, though, the tide has been changing as increasing emphasis has been placed on the importance of building campus student life and participation in extracurricular activities has grown exponentially. SFS-Q students have since then founded a total of 12 student organizations, which include the DoHoya, the student-run newspaper, the Doha Lecture Fund, the Hoya English Learning Program and the Photography and Media Club. In addition, students have also organized several club sports teams, including women’s basketball, cricket and men’s soccer.

SFS-Q Student Affairs Officer Eric Lightfoot (SFS ’08) said student life that has begun to blossom on the Middle Eastern campus.

“We have had current Israeli President Perez speak, community service drives engineered by [the Hoya Hope Club], participated in a world debate tournament in Thailand, have had a regularly published newspaper and held community iftars for Ramadan,” Lightfoot said in reference to events held by SFS-Q students in only the past year.

The student organizations at SFS-Q are, in many ways, similar to those at Georgetown’s main campus, but with an orientation fitting for their very different place in the world.

The International Relations Club in Doha, for example, is the oldest club at SFS-Q. Their IRC travels around the world to various conferences and plays host to the largest high-school Model United Nations conference in the Middle East, just as Georgetown’s main campus International Relations Club hosts the largest MUN high school conference in America.

Fay Ahmed Ghanim Al-Romaihi (SFS ’11) founded the Hoya Hope Club this past spring after being “shocked” that there was no group to better the community and the underprivileged in Doha. Al-Romaihi said the rapid growth of their club has been most remarkable. “Our club has expanded rapidly,” she said. “Many people were eager to lend a helping hand once they knew what we were doing.”

Another fixture of student life at SFS-Q is HELP, a student organization that teaches English as a second language to laborers from the community. Since it started, a group ranging from eight to 16 students has taught between 40 and 85 workers at a given time.

“I think the best way to improve the student activities scene here is to establish partnerships with main campus students and organizations,” Hill said.

To start a new student organization on the SFS-Q campus, students have to propose a club with purpose not already filled by a previously established organization. The student leaders have to draft a constitution, submit it to a student affairs officer and receive at least 12 signatures in a petition. A committee would then have to approve the club’s formation. According to Lightfoot, approved clubs at SFS-Q receive a stipend of $2,000 USD. Student groups also have the option of appealing for funding from the Campus Activities Council, he added.

And the growth of campus life does not appear to be ending anytime soon. New clubs are in the works: Grilling Society, Yearbook Committee, Hoya Green and the Blue and Gray Theatre Troupe are all listed on the SFS-Q Web site as being on the way.

Kent said that, despite some of the frustrations of being a small, fledging campus, there is also a great sense of companionship that pervades the Doha campus.

“While the newness of our campus presents some difficulties, we love it,” Kent said. “It gives us no choice but to be innovators and collaborators.”

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