Michael Mercier | UAH
Sarah Hakim, a junior majoring in political science and philosophy, likes to keep her options open. And that’s exactly what she’s doing as she pursues the many opportunities available to her through scholarships at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), which is part of the from the University of Alabama.
Hakim came to UAH with the intention of majoring in computer engineering; after taking an elective political science course her first semester, however, her plans changed. “I’ve always been interested in political science,” shares Hakim, “but I was afraid of not having job opportunities.” Making this change, she said, was the right call and worth any extra work. “Changing majors can be scary because it feels like stepping back, but if you’re passionate about something, you’ll love it and you’ll do well.” Hakim adds, “At first, I wondered if UAH would be the right school to pursue a degree in political science, but our department is amazing with so many opportunities.”
One such opportunity arose when Hakim was invited in September 2021 to present research and speak with members of Congress, their staffs, and federal agency officials about international parental child abductions. (IPCA). The subject is dear to Hakim after taking a special subjects course, Child Abduction Politics and Politics, with Dr. Noelle Hunter. Dr. Hunter is the founder of I am standingan organization focused on finding ways to bring American children home after experiencing parental abduction, and Dr. Hunter, Hakim and other UAH students from this course attended the 8th Annual International Conference of parents and at the 2021 iStand Parent Network Embassy Walk.
While there, Dr. Hunter was asked to testify at a hearing on the rights of parents and children: how to better implement the Goldman Act. The students met with Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville to discuss the IPCA and introduce a reform bill, and they spoke with the current director of the Office of Children’s Issues at the US State Department , Alison Dilworth, and former manager, Scott Renner. It was at this meeting that Hakim shared his idea for an innovative tracking system to track the activity of child abduction cases across various agencies.
This formative experience was Hakim’s first trip to the nation’s capital and gave him an insider’s view of how the legislative process works. “Just walking into the building and seeing how everything works was insightful. We were able to ask Senator Tuberville questions and come up with ideas for legislation. We also met with his staff, and that made me think that I might one day want to work as a congressional staffer,” she explains. “Everything I was learning in my books was happening in real time.
Hakim points out that the trip to the capital was entirely funded by funds from the Department of Political Science and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHS). “We had to submit an abstract and go through the president and the dean,” says Hakim. “[The College] paid for everything: hotel, transport, tickets. We only had to pay for our morning cup of coffee. Without this support from CAHS, these students, including Hakim, would not have been able to pursue their career goals and take this life-changing journey without worrying about the financial impact.
This trip to Washington, D.C. opened the door for the student to serve as a liaison between iStand and its Lebanese counterpart, iHope, with the aim, she says, of “increasing political work and relations between the American organization and that of the Middle East. “The lawyer who founded iHope invited Hakim and Dr. Hunter to Lebanon to work more closely with them and see how their organization works. Hakim also speaks regularly with the founder of iHope to learn how laws differ between the United States and other countries and how governmental and cultural differences affect those laws.
Dr Hunter thinks Hakim is about to use these unique opportunities to launch his career in politics: “Sarah is an emerging scholar whom I had the privilege of having as a student in several upper division political science courses. . She is intelligent and quite diligent in her studies. I am convinced that she will make important contributions to research and public policy in this field.
Back at UAH, Hakim continues to look for opportunities to increase his knowledge and skills. After taking the US Congress, Senate simulation course last fall, Hakim joined a Senate simulation club. Hakim was elected president pro tempore and she chairs the meetings where they discuss and vote on legislation. This fall, Hakim took the U.S. Presidency, a class in which each member of the class holds a cabinet position and simulates a real presidential term. Hakim served as education secretary and these simulations, says Hakim, are necessary for learning. “Just as engineers and biology students have labs, we have simulations. It is important that we do not just read a book, but that we can play roles. Doing the work is very different from reading about it.
Hakim is also busy applying for internships to provide additional hands-on experience. “I have several applications in progress at the moment,” she notes. “One is with POC Capitol Interns, where I would stay in a dorm on the George Washington University campus and work with a congressional staffer, and the other is an internship at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC”
Each of these internships will propel Hakim into an exciting career, and these opportunities are possible as she continues her education at UAH. Recently, Hakim learned that she will be living in Washington, D.C. in June for the Justice Department internship, made possible through UAH’s Honors College.
Scholarships give students a boost of confidence and make them feel appreciated. Students are often afraid of a subject or career they are passionate about because it may not bring in a lot of money. When you receive a scholarship like this, you are convinced that what you are doing is good and that you can continue to do it.
Regarding future plans, Hakim says, “As I continue to grow in this field, with the many role models that the political science discipline at UAH has provided, I have discovered that political science offers so many possibilities. That’s why I take every opportunity I can find where I can have the most impact. She is currently in the JUMP program at UAH, which means that in five years she will have both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. From there, Hakim sees many possible paths. She is studying at LSAT with the intention of going to law school, but she also hopes to gain experience teaching political science in a high school setting. This would help her gain more experience and knowledge about the education system in the United States, which would prepare her for future career options in higher levels of government.
Hakim acknowledges that his ability to participate in these activities was limited by his need to work to pay for his studies. She is a recipient of the Felix L. Newman Fellowship and is the first recipient of the Adam J. Kubik Fellowship for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “I was working almost full time,” admits Hakim, “but thanks to the scholarships I received, I was able to reduce my hours and only work weekends. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills and I can focus on learning.
Donations to support scholarships are more than cash, says Hakim. “Scholarships give students a boost of confidence and make them feel appreciated. Students are often afraid of a subject or career they are passionate about because it may not bring in a lot of money. When you receive a scholarship like this, you are convinced that what you are doing is good and that you can continue to do it. These days, Hakim’s confidence is high: “Political science is what excites me the most and what makes me the happiest. When I attended the iStand conference, it was very emotional. My hope is to pursue a career that directly helps people.