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St. Olaf student wins Carnegie Endowment fellowship

Aya Kamil '22
Aya Kamil ’22

St. Olaf College student Aya Kamil ’22 has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

She is one of 15 James C. Gaither Junior Fellows selected from a pool of candidates nominated by hundreds of colleges and universities across the country. Kamil has been appointed to Carnegie’s Middle East and North Africa team, where she will work alongside experts who combine in-depth local knowledge and incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. 

The Carnegie Endowment’s mission is to “help countries take on the most difficult global problems and safeguard peace and security through independent analysis, strategic ideas, support for diplomacy, and training the next generation of international scholar-practitioners.” 

Alumni of the James C. Gaither Junior Fellows program include notable leaders such as Pulitzer Prize–winning author Samantha Power, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration and currently serves as the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development in the Biden administration; Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council in the Biden administration; and George Stephanopoulos, the anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America and This Week, and previous senior adviser to President Bill Clinton.

A political science major with concentrations in international relations and Middle Eastern studies, Kamil has been passionate about human rights and international peace from a very young age. This fellowship is the next step in her life’s work for global human rights advancement.

The research that Kamil will be doing as part of the Carnegie fellowship will help inform policymakers’ decisions to advance peace, human rights, and sustainability, which “fits into my overall philosophy very well,” she says. 

“I wanted a fellowship that matches my mission and my ideals and my regional focus on the Middle East,” says Kamil. “So Carnegie was my dream — this is exactly what I want to do.”

I wanted a fellowship that matches my mission and my ideals and my regional focus on the Middle East. So Carnegie was my dream — this is exactly what I want to do.Aya Kamil ’22

Originally from Morocco, Kamil left home at the age of 14 to finish high school at the United World College in Maastricht, Netherlands. After committing to St. Olaf, she deferred her enrollment in order to participate in a Global Citizen Year in Brazil. At St. Olaf she has pursued not only her academics, but multiple study-abroad programs, work study jobs, and internship experiences.

Kamil credits her preparation for the Carnegie fellowship to the relationships she built — on campus, during her study-abroad programs, and through her internships — with mentors and peers who have been invaluable in educating her about the world and connecting her with opportunities. She also received critical support by participating in the First Steps to Fellowships program, which provides students with the tools they need to develop a competitive profile for a variety of prestigious fellowships. 

Last summer, Kamil participated in the International Security and Intelligence Programme at Magdalene College in the University of Cambridge. The program is part of the Cambridge Security Initiative that is run in partnership with the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London.

Kamil, whose experience was financed and supported by the Piper Center, was the first North African female researcher in the program. Focusing mostly on statecraft, national security and the intelligence-policy interface, the program gave her the opportunity to defend her thesis about governance and climate change, with new insights into the security complex in the Middle East, in front of the Cambridge jury. 

Carnegie is also focusing on issues related to what Kamil touched on in her thesis, so when she was interviewing for the fellowship, she was able to show that not only is she interested in the topic, but she has already done substantial research. 

“How the Piper Center supported me through that program is a great example of the kind of institutional support I received during my four years at St. Olaf,” Kamil says. “Now I’m excited to be in D.C. and to meet those scholars that I’ve been reading about for years, work along with them, engage in policymaking circles, and work toward human rights and improving governance in the Middle East.”

I’m excited to be in D.C. and to meet those scholars that I’ve been reading about for years, work along with them, engage in policymaking circles, and work toward human rights and improving governance in the Middle East.Aya Kamil ’22

Kamil also interned in Washington, D.C., at the Project on Middle East Democracy, the Middle East Policy Council, the Human Rights Watch, and the Arab Center, and in the U.K. for the Berlin office at the Thomson Foundation

Today Kamil is affiliated with two organizations running national and international political advocacy. She is a Middle East fellow with Alliance for Citizen Engagement, where she produces research focusing on foreign policy and governance and democratizes access to policy briefs. She is also part of UNITE2030, a U.N.-endorsed organization committed to the realization of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, where she is part of an exclusive, international cohort of 100 youth delegates. 

Across her various internships, Kamil spent time on policy, analysis, writing briefs and memos, and reaching out to staff members in Congress; honed her research skills through different lenses; and maintained her overall focus on human rights in the Middle East.

“My internships were essential in giving me clearer insights on how to make large decisions, what goes on within work dynamics, and how to interact with decision makers and explore the different facets of what decision making actually is,” she says.

St. Olaf’s renowned International and Off-Campus Studies program is one of the main reasons that Kamil chose to attend St. Olaf, and she says it was an integral part of her college experience. She studied in Norway, Ecuador, and the U.K. during her four years on the Hill, and “those experiences were a big, big part of my St. Olaf journey,” she says.

At the University of Oslo, Kamil focused on peace building, Scandinavian comparative politics, and human rights in the Middle East, all through a Norwegian perspective. In Ecuador, she focused on indigenous human rights and sustainability from a community-led perspective, and at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Cambridge University she focused on state institutions and infrastructure from a theoretical, macro-level viewpoint. 

“I’m so grateful that I studied abroad, and I think every student should do it at least once,” says Kamil. “Experiencing different academic cultures will teach you so much and give you unique skills — you’ll definitely come out transformed and with so much new, worldly knowledge.”

Kamil has also been extremely involved on campus and in the local community, serving as a writing tutor, working as a Peer Advisor for the Piper Center, volunteering at local schools through the Awesome Club, participating in the Supporting Special Needs Club, and joining the STOtalks Club that provided students, faculty, and staff to share TED Talk-style speeches and ideas to foster community. 

Kamil says she’s incredibly grateful for the opportunities and support she’s received at St. Olaf. “Mentorship was really present throughout all aspects of my journey,” she says. “Whether it was the IOS Office, the Piper Center, my professors, or other mentors, they all helped me and they were very committed to supporting me throughout my time.”

Her peers provided invaluable support, too. “Oles are really there for each other,” she says.

Planning to continue traveling and exploring the world, Kamil feels an imperative to work toward her passion for peace building, sustainability, and human rights. “With the nature of threats that are facing our generation, we need to take action — and if we don’t do something, who else will?” she says.