APP | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

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APP Creative Fair

Every semester, students from Level 3 of the Academic Preparatory Program (APP) are tasked to present diverse projects at the APP Creative Fair. The projects range from information on latest communications gadgets to history of football, from literature to classical music, and from sculpture to climate change - based on students’ personal interests. The aim is to improve the students’ English language skills through research and presentation. The Level 3 Reading class was tasked by APP instructors Seth Voytek and Susanna Johnson to do research on their topics of interest, present them creatively through posters and then explain their findings to the audience in English. One of the students with a presentation about Steve Jobs said, “I want to major in IT so I chose this. I think having these projects encourages students to think and talk about what they like the most - talk about it, present it, and in the process, improve their English.” Voytek explained that such projects elicit more interest and response from the students than traditional class assignments and presentations. “I think the great thing about this project is that they (students) are not only practicing their English skills, but they are also practicing research, and they are going to do that a lot in the undergraduate programs and for the Research Symposium. This is their first chance to really start presenting and getting themselves ready for serious research on an academic topic,” said Voytek, adding that the project replaced one of the exams. “ For students who don’t necessarily do well on a paper test, this is a chance for them to do well in another way - to show their intelligence and knowledge in a different way."

Students Combine Learning with Community Service in APP English Course

At the beginning of this term, a group of more than a hundred students from the beginners Academic Preparatory Program (APP) took part in a community service project for the displaced persons of Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan. This pilot project aimed to incorporate community work and critical thinking within the English language course for the APP students. The donations drive was led primarily by students, but with support from their teachers. The students collected cash donations as well as items like clothing, food, and toys, after determining the needs of the refugees. Through different charity activities, they were able to raise approximately five thousand dollars in addition to clothing and other things. The students were then tasked with identifying reputable NGOs to help distribute the aid transparently. The students voted for the local NGO, International Slemani of Atlantis (ISA), who collaborated with Kurdistan Save the Children, to distribute the aid collected by AUIS. Image: APP students get ready to distribute donations for refugees APP instructor and project supervisor Chris Guajardo was very happy and encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by his students for the project, “ This was the first time I personally have implemented a service learning project like this as a teacher, and I couldn't be more proud of how students led the way. They worked collaboratively in groups and as an entire level to create fundraisers, collect donations, and promote different events online. It was an incredible experience to facilitate as a teacher and I hope to continue and develop service learning projects in the future.” You can also see photos of AUIS students and ISA handing over the donations to Kurdistan Save the Children on their facebook page.

AUIS Students Visit Refugee Camp for Alternative Spring Break

  This story has been published with contribution by AUIS student Biryar Bahhaalddin. Photos by AUIS student Rozhin Salah. April 5, 2015: A group of AUIS students chose to spend their spring break volunteering and spending time with the children living in a refugee camp in Duhok. The “Alternative Spring Break” started as a trend in the USA, where instead of vacationing, students volunteer their time for community service during their spring break. This year, AUIS students decided to do the same, supported by teachers and Dean of Students, Geoffrey Gresk.  The current crisis in Iraq and Syria has led to a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced people to Kurdistan, especially to Duhok, which hosts a large refugee community. AUIS students volunteered to spend their Nawroz break with the children in one of the refugee camps there. “We are very proud of the 23 students who participated in the service trip to Duhok. AUIS students have been donating their time and talents to the larger community for years, but this is the first time that so many students have had a focused service project during Nawroz break.” said Gresk. The team traveled from Sulamani to Duhok on March 22nd and returned on the 26th. The AUIS students and several faculty and staff members spent time in an IDP camp located in Sumel, west of Duhok. “We painted faces, led songs, and encouraged the children to express themselves in art classes. Several of our AUIS students are planning an exhibition of some of these drawings.” explained Gresk. “We believed that a week’s break is not a short time to try and bring some change to the society. We cannot put an end to the conditions inside the camps or fulfill their yearnings for their hometown Shingal. But, we were successful in bringing happiness and smiles to the children’s faces and we were able to build a strong connection with them,” said student volunteer, Biryar Bahhaalddin. “The children spent these three days with music, dancing, and painting away from thoughts of conflict and war. On the last day we went to the Bazar of Duhok, and we bought school materials for the children. We wanted to motivate them to continue their education because we believe that they will build the future of this country,” continued Bahhaalddin. “ The Alternative Spring Break was a great chance for us to experience a different city and culture, but also to build new friendships. Most of the group members did not know each other at the beginning, but during this week we became very close friends.” The “ASB Family" - as the volunteer team members called themselves - raised almost US$2,000 for the trip. About $600 of this went to pay for the transport while the remainder was used to buy school supplies for the children in the camps: US$1,000 for notebooks, $100 for pens, etc. Volunteers covered their own costs. “We tried to have this as a student-run event. Team members worked on fundraising, planned the program and arranged the travel and housing details. I would especially like to thank my co-leader, Mr. Hazhy Rozh, for all the work he did. The trip would not have happened, much less have been the success that it was, without his efforts,” said Gresk. “I would also like to thank Dr. Esther Mulnix, Dr. Aso Salih, Ms. Rachel Laribee, and all the other staff members who contributed to this success.”

APP Graduation - Ninety Eight Students Advance to Undergraduate Program

“Academic Preparatory Program (APP) is not easy. Everyone who is about to walk across this stage should feel extremely proud of what they have accomplished here,” announced the APP Director, Rachel Laribee, at the graduation ceremony on January 28, 2015. This term, 98 young men and women graduated from the APP to start their undergraduate programs at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) from February 8, 2015. The APP program prepares students to enter their undergraduate programs at AUIS by making them proficient at academic English, as well as teaching them critical thinking skills and successful study habits for undertaking the intensive work involved in completing an undergraduate degree in English.  “Over the next few years, while you are taking mathematics, computers, international studies, remember what you have learned here: not just the English skills, but the study skills as well, which will help you succeed in the undergraduate programs. Good luck, and congratulations!” said Laribee, addressing the successful APP graduates, parents and teachers at the ceremony. Laribee also made a special mention in her speech about the  Level 1 APP students who “helped raise over 4000 dollars for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugee communities” as part of their APP Community Service Learning Project. Students did this through collecting donations, volunteer work, and events organized in their free time. “We thank you for all your hard work. You have made a difference in your community, and you should be very proud of your accomplishments,” she said. Special certificates were also given out to the APP students with exceptional grades and attendance through Levels 1 to 4. Dr. Esther Mulnix, interim president of AUIS, was invited to present the certificates to the successful APP graduates. In her speech, Dr. Mulnix congratulated the students on achieving this important milestone, and to prepare themselves for new challenges and responsibilities. “As you continue your undergraduate education you will strengthen your ability to give back to our community by developing the gifts and talents you have. I want to exhort you today to act responsibly, and help develop a pluralistic society. A society that will use differences of beliefs, status, nationality or language to construct new creative perspectives; not to destroy,” she said. “AUIS brings the world to you, and provides you with opportunities to reach out and interact with individuals from multiple nations. Take advantage of this great privilege! May this be a new beginning; together with an open, educated mind we can build a better world.” You can see more photos of the graduation ceremony on our facebook page.

Undergrads Demonstrate Basic Data Collection Methods to APP Students

A group of undergraduates presented their findings from data collected on genetic traits of the AUIS community for a statistics project to an audience of Academic Preparatory Program (APP) students and their instructors, as part of Discovery Week. After the presentation, the undergraduate students held small workshops on basic statistical data collection methods for APP students. Deputy Director of APP, Katherine Yaw, said the collaboration was a good idea. “We tried to combine some things that the students are doing in Dr. Nasseer’s statistics class with the skills that we’re trying to build in APP students like language learning skills,” she said. “The idea was also to just introduce them to basic scientific methods.  How to develop a hypothesis, and then to test it out, and how the results can be interpreted.” Seth Voytek, an APP instructor, said that as part of science and discovery focused activities for the Discovery Week, their students had been learning about genetics and will be conducting some experiments about that. “The students have come to the presentations with some background knowledge on the subject already," he said. “ This (collaboration) is not something we do traditionally. It’s new for us but the nice thing about this is that the students have learned some nice subject matter that is going to be useful for them when they go into life sciences or science in general, when they start their academic program.” The undergraduate students in Dr. Nasseer Idrisi’s statistics class had taken up a small project to test general hypothesis about the dominant to recessive genetic traits using a sample from the AUIS community. “This collaborative workshop was a great opportunity for me to see how well the students understand the topic. It’s one thing to write a report and another thing to actually instruct others how to do it. I’m very pleased with the way they’ve done it,” he said. Al-Hamzeh Muhammad, a business student, enjoyed the experience of collecting and interpreting the data, and teaching APP students how to do it. “I really think that we learned more about statistics by doing this than we would have done from just writing a paper. This was a more practical thing, and what we instructed the APP students with will help us with our second exam,” he commented. Yaw would like to see more academic collaborations between the undergraduate and APP classes in the future. “I think such collaborations are very good for our students so they can see that the things they learn in their APP class have a purpose. We would definitely like to continue things like these. It would be interesting to try other topics as well.” More photos of the workshops on our facebook page.

AUIS Helped Me to Become A Better Leader

Mohamed Sabir
The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) has had a great impact on my life. In Iraq, we have always struggled for better leaders, but in terms of followers we have had more than enough. AUIS is here to create a new future for Iraq with leaders who believe in freedom, justice, and democracy. Before joining AUIS, I found difficulty in developing my goals, and I went through a period in my life in which I questioned everything.  I had trouble finding meaning in my life and questioned the value of education. This as I enrolled in university to study architectural engineering.  After attending classes for a couple of months, I decided to leave to attend AUIS. Everyone around me thought I was crazy for leaving a “prestigious college” to become a student at AUIS.  For me, however, it offered a life with purpose. Engineering to me was money, position, name and fame, but I did not find any meaning in those things, so, I began my journey to find meaning in life.  At AUIS, I began taking classes in the Academic Preparatory Program (APP). My English vocabulary was terrible, but, I quickly found my way and after several weeks of hard work, one of my teachers offered me a chance to move into a higher level because of my hard work. This quick success happened because I had good teachers and I spoke in English almost all the time. My undergraduate studies were a period of exploration in my life. In addition to studying the arts, history, and math, I became involved in student activities, I became a research assistant for several professors at AUIS, and also took on several internships. I was honored to be elected the International Studies senator and vice president of the first Student Association in 2013. I am now the president of the Student Association, which has done some remarkable work, but we face the same struggles as any new institution. I have benefited a lot from what I have been taught at AUIS, especially my class about politics and government, which taught me how to work with different ethnic groups and with people with different interests, something we face every day in the Student Association. I also joined a group friends and established a newspaper that has no ideology, but brings different perspectives to the reader. Primarily because of these two contributions, this summer I was given the chance to participate in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP).  IYLEP opened my eyes and it also made me more open-minded.  Before I was reading about political rights and freedom, but IYLEP gave me a chance to travel to the United States and experience first-hand these political rights and civil liberties. What I discovered was that leadership does not mean ruling people or people serving you, but rather it means as a leader, you serve the people you are leading.  As I developed new skills, I realized that I was actually taught the meaning of leadership by my father, who has always been a role model to me. And, I also realized that good leadership does not exist without love, and this I was taught by my loving mother. All of this, however, could not have turned me into a leader without AUIS. AUIS is what gave me purpose, along with the education and the opportunity to serve my community.  From here, the journey of my life continues as I continue to add more meaning to my life and to others. Mine is an unfinished story -for now. I do not want to do things for money or fame, but I want to do them so that I share what I was taught at AUIS: to be a leader who brings freedom, justice and democracy to our society.    

Significant Changes over Five Years

I still remember the one question I was able to answer from the ten minute interview I had with Adam Hubley, the Manager of the Testing Center at the AUIS.  The interview was done to place me in one of the Academic Preparatory Program (APP) levels at AUIS. My English understanding was limited then, and I could hardly understand the questions Mr. Hubley asked me. After the interview, I was accepted in level two. Once admitted, I soon realized that there was no space available in level two, so I went ahead and moved up to level three. The first two days of attending APP were difficult because I could hardly understand the instructor. Once, the instructor told all the students go to the computer lab. I didn't move from my desk until most of the students left the class and headed to the computer lab because I didn't get it.   Five years ago, we managed to attend classes and learn in a ten square meter cabin made of wood and metal.  We felt the coldness of the winter season and the brutal heat in the summer. As soon as class started, we would fight over whether to turn off or to keep the AC on. I recall coming to the cabin during the break, setting the AC at the temperature reading I preferred, and hiding the remote control in one of the cabinets.  Most of the people at AUIS used to know each other; students totaled less than 200, so you could manage to become a popular friend very easy. There was one sidewalk to the main building that almost everybody took to work.    The university has progressed so have I. Today, in my fifth year at AUIS, I have the language skills to ask or answer hundred questions. Professors often require us to write a four page essay about a book we read or a subject matter we discuss in a matter of 24 hours. They assign chapters of forty to sixty pages twice to three times a week. My colleagues and I manage to handle all of these assignments and tasks in English without major problems or difficulties.  The university moved to a new campus that is truly ' state of the art' as they describe it on the university webpage.  A single building on the new campus is as twice as big as the old one and there are three of them so far.  The cooling and heating systems are centrally controlled so the classes are warm in the winter and cool in the summer without any student's interference or disagreement.  Every time I go to a restaurant or a café around Suli, I see somebody from AUIS.  The new campus now houses more than one thousand students, staff and faculty.   Over the last five years, I grew from somebody who could hardly say a few words and make simple grammatically wrong sentences to an undergraduate student who feels confident writing five to ten major papers every semester.  AUIS has grown tremendously over the last five years from a small campus that housed a little more than 200 students into a university that has astonishing buildings and a population of more than a thousand people. All this progress is done thanks to all the committed people who strongly believe in preparing students to become better citizens for a better Iraq. 

My Summer with SHEP

During my final exams last month, I thought about how I should spend a month of my summer break before my trip to Greece. I knew it would be really boring to do nothing for a whole month. However, thanks to the AUIS Admission Office, I was offered the opportunity to serve as  a student instructor at the Summer Honors English Program (SHEP).   I received an e-mail from the AUIS Admission office stating that, “this summer AUIS’s Admissions Office will be teaching its first ever AUIS Summer Honors English Program! The program is free opportunity for top English-speaking 12th graders to get free English lessons and learn more about AUIS!" I found the course really interesting and wondered how I could be involved. Happily, the e-mail also indicated that the Admission Office would hire active and experienced students from among the AUIS student body .Luckily, I was selected to assist one of the instructors and work as a student instructor. Now, I am experiencing some of the most beautiful moments of my life. An AUIS APP instructor and I are leading a section of the course. We have about thirty 12th graders. It is worth mentioning that SHEP is a chance for the best English-speaking high school students in Sulaimani to improve their language skills. We have a lively mixture of fun English group activities, group work, and some English projects every day.   SHEP not only provides me with an opportunity to enjoy my summer break, but also gives me work experience for my future careers. What could be more interesting than being both an instructor and a student? It is a great feeling when you have the chance to be called a "teacher" while you are too young to have the title. SHEP dramatically increases my teaching and leadership skills. Every day, I learn something new as I work with wonderful students who are truly in love with the English Language and new ideas.   More to the point, SHEP allows me to implement what I was taught in the Georgetown University last year. I spent last summer at Georgetown University in Washington DC. We had various academic and leadership training programs for three weeks. I would never be able to recall all the necessary skills I was taught during the program. However, one of my Georgetown professors said something at the end of the course that is always in my mind. He said, "Try to implement whatever you have learned over this course when you return home." Now, I am happy to be able to contribute the knowledge I achieved during the program in the States. I am so happy that I could keep the promise I made to my professor. SHEP reminds me so much of the great moments I spent in Georgetown. We do a lot of same activities and English projects here at AUIS. One thing that really brought tears to my eyes today was a statement that a group of the students wrote on their posters to me. They wrote, "We dedicate this to you dear Mr. Mahdy. We hope you like it." I was almost crying when I read the message. It was very similar to what I used to write on several posters I did last summer in Georgetown. The only difference was that I wrote for my professors last year, but this time some students wrote it for me.  Last but not the least, I am grateful for all the contributions and enthusiasm that the students have shown during the course. I will never forget the great moments I shared with you all and will continue to share in the coming days this summer. You all bring more fruit to my life every day as we talk, walk, and do activities with each other.   

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

When I accepted the offer to come teach at AUIS, so many friends, family, and colleagues were nothing less than amazed that I had done so. Yet there were so many reasons why this opportunity appealed to me, and several of those reasons were sufficient reasons in their own right. Perhaps the greatest reason was my sense that were I to pass up this rare opportunity, I would look back with regret for the rest of my life. This was simply an opportunity for personal growth and development that I just couldn't refuse. Now in my second year, I have to say that this has been one of the more fascinating and transforming adventures of my life. Was it the daily interaction with delightful students and interesting colleagues?  The opportunity to explore and photograph so many historic and prehistoric sites I've only read about?  The rich experience of learning an entirely different culture?  The fascinating experience of taking a fresh look at my own culture, beliefs, and assumptions from an entirely new perspective?  Having a base camp in the Middle East from which to explore several other countries and cultures?  While I really can't narrow it down to just one reason or benefit, I cannot imagine that I'll ever be the same because of this experience.  And I'm grateful. For any who regards oneself as insatiably curious, addicted to learning, new experiences, and gaining new perspectives, this could be the richest "kid-in-a-candy-store" experience of one's life.  Rather than feeling like I'm at work, I've generally felt like I'm on an extended study sabbatical. I keep in daily touch with friends, family, and colleagues through face-to-face conversation using Skype, G-chat, or FaceTime.  Some occasionally tell me they feel like they're living vicariously through my frequent Facebook, blog or photo album postings.  Yet I know they're getting but a tiny glimpse.  I keep saying to them, "Come and work here!  You'll love it!"  Of course, others continually ask me when I'm "coming home."  All I can say is, "well... not yet!!"


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