December 13, 2020: Students at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q), a Qatar Foundation partner university, capped off an extraordinary year of challenges, achievement, growth and innovation with a virtual Qatar National Day celebration. The CMU-Q Qatari Student Association held a photo competition and online event for students to connect and learn more about the rich Qatari culture, including traditional Qatari attire, the karak tea custom, Qatari proverbs, and Arabic calligraphy.
Mohammed Al-Qassabi, the president of the Qatari Student Association and a third-year student at CMU-Q, noted how different this year’s Qatar National Day will feel: “It will feel a little strange, since we can’t celebrate in person. But at CMU-Q, we can show our love for our country through photos, and through a virtual gathering and shared celebration of Qatar.”
More than 40% of CMU-Q’s students and alumni are Qatari, and they, as well as all students at CMU-Q, have experienced a year of creativity and growth as they explore how they can use their education to help Qatar overcome the challenges of the pandemic.
Excellence in serving Qatar
Many CMU-Q students begin to contribute to the national growth and well-being of Qatar well before graduation. Al-Qassabi, who has long been involved with the Qatar Scientific Club, helped to design and manufacture 7000 reusable face shields for medical workers to use to stay safe.
Similarly, Fatima Mustafawi created a senior honors project that would improve the experience of workers in Qatar by making it easier to stay in touch with their families in their home countries. Mustafawi felt she should use the skills and knowledge she learned at CMU-Q to contribute to Qatar: “I think knowledge should never stop. If I learn something, I feel I genuinely have a duty to pass that on to someone else.”
After graduation, the majority of CMU-Q alumni choose to stay in Qatar and contribute their skills and creativity. Mohammed Al-Matwi, a 2015 graduate in business administration, turned to a career in entrepreneurship. In 2017, he started The Perfume Factory, the first fragrance manufacturer in Qatar.
But when the pandemic hit, he reconsidered how he could contribute to Qatar. In the spring of 2020, he shifted his production to personal sanitizers, a made-in-Qatar option for health and safety products that were in low supply worldwide: “I realised that disinfectants and hand sanitizers share over 90 percent of the same raw materials as perfumes. And, given that they were critical to helping stop the spread of coronavirus, my first thought was that this would be the perfect way in which I could contribute to the wellbeing of my people.”
Scientific and research excellence
Research is at the heart of Carnegie Mellon, and students are encouraged to pursue projects of local, regional, and international importance.
In the spring of 2020, alumna Aisha Fakhroo received a platinum medal in the university student category, presented by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani at the 13th annual Education Excellence Award ceremony. Fakhroo graduated with a degree in biological sciences in 2019, including college honors for her research into the regulation role of a tumor suppressor gene in breast cancer.
Fahad Salah Bahzad, who graduated in 2020 with a degree in business administration, dedicated his senior honors research thesis to maximizing social welfare for the Doha Metro. Bahzad chose to attend CMU-Q because of his strong ties to his country: “CMU-Q gave me the opportunity to get an international, world-class education and still be close to my family.”
At the end of the spring 2020 semester, four students—Reem Al-Haddad, Sara Al-Hemaidi, Amal Al-Korbi, and Almayasa Al-Naimi—were awarded an Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) grant by QNRF to explore the ways people in Qatar think about indigenous wildlife species.
Like her research partners, Al-Naimi is especially interested in preserving and protecting Qatar’s unique environment: “I was drawn to this study because there is very little research concerning the environment in Qatar, and I think measuring people’s attitudes and awareness towards endangered species can ultimately help Qatar in working to preserve them.”
Entrepreneurship and innovation
CMU-Q students and alumni have likewise been an integral part of the burgeoning entrepreneurial landscape in Qatar, helping to build an ecosystem of innovation and creativity. While several alumni have made great strides in innovation and entrepreneurship over the years, in 2020 several students made their mark as well.
An all-female team of Qatari students won first place in the 2020 CarnegieApps Hackathon. In a competition of 19 teams, Maryam Al-Darwish, Haya Al-Kaabi, Haya Al-Kuwari, and Buthayna Almulla developed an application called Tapped, which is a tool for tailors to take accurate body measurements using smartphone cameras.
Reem Al-Haddad, an information systems student, transformed a class project into a busy social commerce business. Al-Haddad has found a niche in the local market for home-baked khanfaroosh, a healthier version of the traditional fried Qatari dessert. Her business took off during Ramadan when the pandemic was preventing social gatherings. “Then during Eid al-Fitr, I had so many orders I had my siblings help with the packaging station, and it was even busier during Eid al-Adha.”
The year of notable achievements of innovation was capped off at the Al Fikra 2020 national business competition, hosted by Qatar Development Bank. Ali Al-Maadid and Mohammed Al-Qassabi won two of the three categories in a competition that included the full spectrum of participants, from students to experienced professionals.
Al-Maadid, who graduates in May 2021, is looking forward to a career that transforms his community: “I don’t want to start just a small business, I would like to revolutionize the recycling industry in Qatar, and change the way we take care of our environment.”
A new focus for the new year
The dean of CMU-Q, Michael Trick, reflected on Qatar National Day 2020: “This year has been challenging, but it has also sparked the creativity and resilience of our students. Carnegie Mellon is in Qatar for one reason: to contribute to the development of this nation. As the end of the pandemic comes into focus, I truly hope our students and alumni will take this spirit of community service and innovation forward to help build a brighter future.”
A proud partner of Qatar Foundation, CMU-Q offers undergraduate programs in biological sciences, business administration, computer science, and information systems. CMU-Q is home to more than 400 students from 52 countries, 40% of whom are Qatari.