Afghan Women to Pursue Master’s Degrees at Center for Public Policy and Administration
Aerzo Kohistanik Nadima Sahar and
Mahbuba Babrakzai on campus last fall
Coming up this fall the Center for Public Policy and Administration (CPPA), part of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass Amherst, will be welcoming three Afghan women into its master’s degree program. And in two years when they graduate, Arezo Kohistani, Nadima Sahar and Mahbuba Babrakzai will not only move on to public service careers in Afghanistan but they also will be part of a very rare group: Afghan women who hold graduate degrees and aim to assume leadership roles in their country’s government.
The 48-credit interdisciplinary master’s program in Public Policy and Administration integrates theoretical learning with multiple opportunities for practical application. The core curriculum is designed to provide students with a strong analytical foundation, applicable to a wide variety of policy issues. Students then specialize in one of a variety of areas including education, environmental policy, health policy, international/comparative policy, and family, gender and social policy. They also have the opportunity to simultaneously earn certificates or joint degrees in Advanced Feminist Studies, Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies, or Management. Says CPPA Director John Hird, “Creating opportunities for talented and committed individuals from around the world to improve life both in the U.S. and abroad is exactly what CPPA is about. And to have three such talented women from Afghanistan is exceptional.”
Kohistani, Sahar and Babrakzai and their families have endured severe hardships for the sake of education. Because of the Taliban’s prohibition on education for girls, all three were taught outside of Afghanistan, split from their families, either in refugee camps or in Afghan schools in Pakistan. Then, supported financially by Roger Williams University and administratively by the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW), they arrived in Bristol, Rhode Island, to move forward with their college educations. IEAW is nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the next generation of Afghan women. It was founded in 2002 by Paula Nirschel, wife of Roger Williams’ president Roy J. Nirschel.
These three women are among twenty Afghan women who have received full four-year scholarships at ten American colleges around the country. (Roger Williams was the first to participate.) Selected from a highly competitive pool, they were chosen for their high academic standards, keen English skills, and dedication to returning home with their knowledge and ambitions. “We want to make sure that the next generation won’t face the same problems, like lack of education and not feeling secure enough,” says Sahar, who insists that she will go home to influence policies and then become the first female president of Afghanistan. “If God wants,” she adds, “I’ll have my own NGO or business providing microfinance.”
But to do such things, these women understand that they must get as much education as possible, and CPPA is playing a key role in making that happen. Says Satu Zoller, associate director, “We are supporting these women financially, but we aren’t able to do it alone. The International Programs Office is giving them tuition and fee waivers, and the Graduate School is providing funding too. Each scholar has received a grant from PEO International, a pioneer society for women founded in 1869 to promote educational opportunities for women. All three will be working as research assistants, on a project dealing with international women's education.”
Notes Babrakzai, “This support is key to allowing me to take part in rebuilding my country. The interdisciplinary master’s program has the right combination of courses to train me well enough so that I can work my way to the Finance Ministry of Afghanistan. My goal, ultimately, is to become the Finance Minister”—that is, she adds playfully, if she loses the presidential race to Sahar. “It’s a dream coming true,” Kohistani says, whose aim is to someday hold the title of ambassador. “Not only our dream, but our families’ dream, our country’s dream.
During a visit to Amherst in February, Kohistani, Sahar and Babrakzai demonstrated enormous confidence and maturity. That they are serious students almost goes without saying; each has earned GPAs at Roger Williams of 3.5 or higher in financial services, business management, and political science. In fact, their work ethic and reputation for routinely closing the library at 2 a.m. earned each a string of academic honors. “Education is a gift,” Babrakzai says. “Once you have it, no one can take it away from you, no matter if there is war, no matter what. And having great assets within ourselves, we are assets for the future of our country.”
The Center for Public Policy and Administration is committed to research and teaching to improve public life. All of CPPA’s activities—the Master’s Program in Public Policy and Administration, scholarly research, faculty and student projects for public and nonprofit clients, speakers series and events, connections with public leaders, undergraduate teaching, and online instruction—emphasize that research and teaching are integrated activities that support public service and sound public policy decisions. For more information about CPPA, go to www.masspolicy.org.
May 23, 2006