Monday, October 9, 2017

Sussex for TBC Graduation

Rafael and I woke up very early this morning to head to the University of Sussex. My pupils from Calverton Primary School, who worked with me to understand the engineering design process last term, were graduating from The Brilliant Club's Scholars Programme.

I honestly have more photographic evidence of our train ride than the day itself. Rafael LOVES trains (see grin below), and I was running around after him, joining my pupils on a school tour, and speaking during the certificate ceremony rather than staffing the camera. But a very grand day was had by all!

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Boys are Back in Town

I am a Becca with her boys.

After a month of holiday, Rafael is back in London. We had a joyful reunion this week, which in the first ten minutes included a song-and-dance routine to "Good Mornin'" from Singing in the Rain; quite fitting, given this week's weather. He seemed to like it!

Also this week came a Bram. Middle son of the Dutches - my parents' best friends and origin of my name. Becky and Ken lived in Cambridge for a year while she was a Churchill Scholar, just a couple years ago. Now Bram is doing his master's in computer science there, which means I get to continue torturing him as I have since he was a child.

Naturally, I decided that Bram and Rafael should meet. We went on a boat. Rafael was rather amused by the very tall man who wasn't quite sure how best to hold him. They must have got on, though, because Rafael offered Bram some of his banana, and then slept in his arms in a Greenwich pub.

And so a new academic year starts, with my boys in easy reach. :)

Friday, September 22, 2017

New Course! 'Catching the Clouds'

This term is an exciting one - I am teaching a brand new course with The Brilliant Club! It's based on Dar Si Hmad's fog-harvesting project, and I'm really excited to work with a cohort of A-level London students to test out the curriculum.

Catching the Clouds: Water Security and Sustainable Engineering is an interdisciplinary STEM course furthering students' knowledge of meteorology, chemistry, and physics. Using the world's largest fog-harvesting system as a case study, participants will examine the role of engineering in sustainable development. Students will explore the science behind fog formation, solar power, and renewable energies. Design thinking will be used to guide students in considering how we develop and implement sustainable technologies that can improve quality of life, especially for marginalised communities. The course will build pupils’ specific knowledge of Morocco's hydrology and the CloudFisher system while encouraging them to consider applied engineering and sustainable development more broadly.
During their final project, students will critically analyse an existing community intervention and suggest improvements for future work (which might include questions of efficacy, scalability, or sustainability). Pupils will reflect and expand on a case study chosen by them, and may elect to focus their examination on any region, problem, and disciplinary angle they desire. In this way, participants can apply their learning throughout the course to personalised academic interests. The assignment is structured to allow for maximum flexibility while emphasising analytical abilities and an understanding of the broader implications of chosen case studies, thus giving students a taste of the evaluation processes expected at university.
Participation in the course will build students’ capacities for applied engineering and awareness of sustainable development, empowering them to consider how their interest in science can be used to address social issues.

More to come about the programme, I am this space! (And in the meantime, please send good vibes as I attempt to teach engineering - HA!)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hello again!

It's been an age since I updated this blog; apologies.

I was essentially in a cave for all of August, working to get my PhD thesis drafted.

September then started off with quite a bang.

So, updates!

1. My thesis is mostly complete. Its data chapters are now sitting with my research partners in Kuwait, Lebanon, and Morocco. As part of my participatory approach to research, they all have a chance to read and make edits on it before it is final. It has been an honour to share this journey with them, and I had a very emotional time writing up their stories and analysing what they have to teach us about environmental peacebuilding!

2. I have started a new job at Syracuse University's study abroad centre in London. I'm working in their office as a learning support officer and also teaching on a number of environmental justice and politics issues. In January, I'll be leading a study abroad seminar with them in the Scandinavian countries exploring equity and sustainability in Europe and teaching ethnographic methods.

3. I was in Poland this weekend, celebrating the wedding of very dear friends. The groom was an American Jew and the bride a Polish Catholic. They blended their various traditions very beautifully, and it was joyous to celebrate with them. It was also exhausting...when I left at 4:30am on Monday to catch my flight, I was leaving an active party!

4. I went from Poland to Manchester, where I spoke at a peacebuilding conference. We had a great environmental panel. I had the chance to finally meet in person some folks I knew well by reputation as well as connecting with some other great folks. Again, exhausting to go straight from wedding to intensive conference, but very well worth it.

5. And now I'm settling back into London, as are the new Marshall Scholars! I met them at Leicester Square for dinner last night and am more officially welcoming them at the Foreign Commonwealth Office this evening.

A very grand start to the autumn, indeed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

K+ Summer School 2017

Does the Telly Lie? Media and the Middle East is an interdisciplinary course allowing students to expand their knowledge and skills in government, English, and sociology. The course will guide students in exploring the role of media in society. Through the lens of Western news coverage of the Middle East, students will consider how knowledge and ‘fact’ are created in society and how they might evaluate truth claims. Students will wrestle with potential ‘myths’ told in mainstream media about a region generally portrayed as mired in conflict and be challenged to look “beyond the bombs” to consider biased assumptions about the role of gender, environmental resources, and democracy in the area. The course will build students’ specific knowledge of the Middle East’s religions, cultures, and politics while also encouraging them to reflect on similar issues in their own settings.

Through the final assignment, students will use the analytical reasoning skills developed in the course to critically evaluate a series of news articles and/or programmes. Students will compare and contrast stories from a variety of sources on a Middle East topic selected by them. Students will be expected to show an understanding of the broader implications of their own and societal understandings of and approaches to information. As such, emphasis will be placed less on the actual topic chosen and more on the reflective reasoning abilities demonstrated. This way, students will be given a taste of the evaluation processes expected at university.

Participation in the course will build students’ critical thinking while empowering them to be more active and thoughtful citizens of the world.

I got to teach this course at King's last week with their annual spotlight summer camp for widening participation students...quite possibly for the last time!

K+ at King's College London is a two-year programme of events, activities and academic workshops created to help support students' university application and provide the skills needed to reach their potential as an undergraduate student. One of the highlights of K+ is the Spotlight Summer School, complete with academic tutorials; information sessions on applications, personal statements, and finances; tours; student life taster sessions; and a trip to the London Eye.

Twenty Year 12 students gave me a riot of a time as we explored feminism and dress codes, epistemologies and academic politics, and censorship and Islam. As made evident below, the entire week was entirely serious.

Okay, so...there may or may not have been included in the festivities a visit from #thelittlestgeographer Rif Raf and a run through the fountains. But I'm not swearing one way or the other. Notice the students with books and giving presentations!! It wasn't all eating biscuits and rampaging through the Strand with a toddler...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Return to the Burn

As a highlight of every summer, the Marshall Scholars visit The Burn, a gorgeous manor house in the Cairngorns near Glen Esk (the very low highlands of Scotland).

Our activities whilst in England's northern neighbour include dancing a ceilidh (the very fun and fast-paced Scottish variation to an American squaredance), touring (and tasting at...) a whiskey distillery, roaming about cliffs and castle ruins, squishing our toes in a sandy beach, and roasting marshmallows over a campfire. It is, all in all, rather magical.

Also on the agenda this year was a few pre-seasonal salmon running the stream - pretty large fish leaping out of the water up the rapids to get to their spawning ground. Super, super cool to see in person.

I was entirely remiss in taking photos at most places, but here are a few from the North Sea...

Sunday, June 25, 2017


This last week in Oxford, a bit of magic happened. Once again, some of my favourite humans gathered through the AMENDS platform. More formally:

The mission of AMENDS is to facilitate a platform for promising youth leaders working from across the Middle East, North Africa and the United States to maximize their initiatives by providing them access to opportunities for developing key skills, networking with established leaders and sharing their initiatives with a larger audience.

In February of 2011, as protests were erupting across North Africa and the Middle East, two Stanford undergraduates met at a coffee shop. They had been born and raised in Bahrain and Chicago respectively. A conversation ensued about the power of youth leaders to create positive social, political, and economic change, the necessity of sharing their ideas and experiences with the world, and the profound potential of collaboration and understanding between the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States. This conversation gave birth to AMENDS – a student-led initiative sponsored by Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies with faculty advisors Professor Larry Diamond and Professor Frank Fukuyama.

Each April, the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS) holds a Launch Summit providing young changemakers with proven track records access to opportunities for developing key skills, networking with established leaders and sharing their initiatives with a larger audience. The result is a growing generation of change agents working to ignite concrete social and economic development in the MENA region.

Our Fellows are people like Rahmeh, the co-founder of Jordan’s SheCab company that provides safe transport and economic empowerment for women in the region; Fadi, a young Palestinian entrepreneur whose alternative energy start-up in Ramallah who has secured a contract with the PLO to deliver 10% of the West Bank’s energy need through wind power; and Cole, an American advocate connecting policymakers in Washington DC with activists on the ground in the Middle East.

Alumni of the annual Summits have joined across the years to form the AMENDS Global Fellows, a new organization dedicated to equipping these changemakers and their initiatives. Activities include annual reunion Forums where Fellows gather for continued resource sharing; regular online workshops connecting initiatives working on similar issues in disparate countries; and internal crowd-sourced support for translation, grant-writing, and other needs the Fellows are able to provide for each other. The AMENDS Global Fellows has made possible partnerships like that of curriculum developer Laura and science educator Hamza, who built a countrywide extracurricular intervention for STEM learning in Jordan, and peace researcher Becca and choral director Micah, who brought an Israeli-Palestinian youth choir to sing in London’s West End.

During AMENDS’ first five years, we have built a strong presence at both Stanford University in California and Koç University in Istanbul. Student teams work with university administration to host the Launch Summit (generally held at Stanford) and Fellows Forum (held at Koç for the past three years). We value these partnerships, and our presence in the US and Turkey is and will continue to be strong. But it is time – both in terms of organizational growth and due to current political realities – to expand.

The 2017 AMENDS Summit will be our sixth annual gathering with new delegates. This year’s 33 delegates were selected by the Stanford Student Team from a pool of 500 applicants. They represent 19 countries and work on a range of issues, from gender equality and diversity to environmental justice to education policy. In Sudan, Shiemma Ahmed manages an online platform for craftswomen in Darfur to sell their wares. In Iran, Esmaeil Pirhadi pioneers a hardware startup to provide sensory treatment for disorders like autism and PTSD. In Libya, Abdulrahman Zurghani runs coding classes for youth.

Shiemma, Esmaeil, and Abdulrahman have been directly affected by the recent executive order on immigration, with American visa appointments cancelled. Other delegates from countries like Lebanon have already had their applications denied – despite the support of Stanford University and AMENDS’ proven track record. Meanwhile, Turkey’s visa requirements have become much stricter in the past two years, and a number of alumni were unable to attend the 2016 Fellows Forum and face continued barriers with access to Istanbul.

AMENDS is about social change, and relies on relationships to create new ideas and make new projects possible. We know the power of working together face-to-face over a weeklong conference and remain committed to inclusion. With this in mind, we would like to turn the global security and geopolitical turbulence of 2016-2017 toward something good: the launch of AMENDS Oxford.

The AMENDS community already has any number of ties to Oxford. Fellows like Jessica Anderson, Corey Metzman, Zach Levine, and Sam Sussman have earned postgraduate degrees from the University. Stanford Team Members Marwa Farag and Madeleine Chang have studied there as well, while former AMENDS President Meredith Wheeler was a 2014 Rhodes Scholar, now joined by Fellow Hashem Abu Shama, who was recently selected as the first Palestinian Rhodes Scholar.

We launched the Oxford branch of AMENDS this summer by hosting the New Delegates’ Launch Summit in parallel with the Fellows Forum from 19-23 June 2017. The new Delegates and alumni Fellows were paired for two-way mentoring. Though the timing of Ramadan made logistics, eating, and sleeping somewhat crazy (celebrating Muslims didn't eat or drink during daylight hours, which goes from like 3:30am-9:30pm during British summer!), it was inspiring to share the holiday season together in such a beautiful and historic place.

The AMENDS Talks, when new Delegates shared the fantastic work they're doing with the wider community, were inspiring as always. More wonderful were the informal moments in the garden of idea sharing, resource swapping, and partnership growing.

It's truly amazing what you can do when you throw cool people in a room and let them go about the business of making change.