SIA students honored with the Spirit of Internationalization Award

SIA students Sally Mouakkad and Rachel Sayre have received the Spirit of Internationalization Award from the Penn State University Office of Global Programs during its fourth annual International Women's Day on March 15.

The Spirit of Internationalization award recognizes women from Penn State University and the local community who excel in academic achievements, artistic excellence, volunteerism in international organizations, or dedication to advancing the status of women.

International Women's Day is a wonderful way to celebrate the great strides that nations around the world have made in advancing educational, economic, and political opportunities for women. Both Ms. Mouakkad and Ms. Sayre truly represent an international ideal and are very befitting of the award,” said Dr. Tiyanjana Maluwa, director of the School of International Affairs.

Sally Mouakkad: Empowering women through education

Mouakkad is an e-intern with the State Department Virtual Student Foreign Service, where she works on cross-cultural communication and outreach to Kuwaiti students through social media. Mouakkad is also part of an interdisciplinary team of six University students serving Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. The team works to empower women, improve access to information, and increase maternal health. Coordinating their efforts with the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), which works with women living under the poverty line to help empower them through education and job opportunities, the team is working on developing and identifying more efficient networks for women to sell various products like food and clothes that the women have produced by hand.

As an undergraduate at University of California Irvine, Mouakkad co-founded the Olive Tree Initiative, a group that brings together students from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds to promote dialogue and discussion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict. Many students on the Irvine campus, including Mouakkad, were interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because of her own desire to learn more about the issues, Mouakkad found herself involved in a movement to start positive dialogue about the conflict, which eventually became the Olive Tree Initiative. “The movement originally was for self learning, however, it quickly led to the production of something completely unexpected,” Mouakkad said. Her passion for the project has driven her to investigate how starting a similar program at Penn State can become a reality.

“I am thrilled and completely humbled that I've been selected for this award,” Mouakkad said. “I am so inspired by all the women acting as positive agents of change and growth in their communities. There are so many ways that everyone can make a difference in their own ways within the structure of their society.”

Rachel Sayre: Researching international water issues abroad

Having lived on four different continents in the last ten years, Sayre said, “My passion absolutely lies in the international arena, and I never feel so at home as when I am abroad.” Before enrolling in the SIA master's program, she volunteered as a teacher in Ecuador, helping to start an orphanage and transporting medical supplies to remote areas in the jungle. As a master's student at Penn State's School of International Affairs, Sayre has focused on climate change and water issues in South Asia.

She is an intern with the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in Bhutan, where she has been instrumental in setting up the first ever environmental research library, as part of its new Environmental Resource Center. Her work has included setting up RSPN's new website and facilitating collaboration with U.S. universities for the research library. She has presented her scholarship at an international water capacity building conference on Bhutan's hydropower future in relation to climate change.

“I am incredibly honored to be nominated and named for the Spirit of Internationalization Award. I wish I could give this award to every one of the friends I have made during my time overseas; I have learned so much more from them about life and what it means to be helpful than I could ever learn in a classroom,” said Sayre.