GVSU student chosen for international fellowship

GVL / Courtesy - Gabriella Patti

GVL / Courtesy – Gabriella Patti

Sanda Vazgec

Most students spend their Thanksgiving break at home with family, enjoying a few days off from classes. Gabriella Patti, a junior at Grand Valley State University, spent her break last November doing something a little different.

Patti was one of 10 students in the U.S. chosen for a fellowship through The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Participating in the Qatar Exchange Malone Fellowship, she spent a week in Qatar learning about all aspects of the culture and government.

Working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Patti spent the week meeting with authorities of various Qatari government ministries. She also met with representatives of Al Jazeera and toured one of the largest natural gas plants in the world.

“There are many misconceptions of the Middle East,” Patti said. “But it’s actually leading the world in innovation and business opportunities.”

Patti said she has a passion for the Middle East and Arab culture, and that the fellowship was a life-changing experience.

In order to qualify for the fellowship, a student must be involved with The National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations for at least a year. Patti has participated in the council every year of her college career through the Model Arab League.

The Model Arab League is a simulation of the real-life diplomatic relations of countries in the Middle East. Students learn about the countries they represent and serve as model diplomats for various committees within their particular country.

Students can participate in the league by taking MES 370, a class that fulfills the general education issues requirement at GVSU. The class is open to all majors and is also offered as a club.

The course is taught by Coeli Fitzpatrick, professor of philosophy in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, along with two other professors in the Arabic department.

Once the students have their policies and resolutions prepared for their committee, they participate in the regional model debate which is held at GVSU, followed by the national model debate held in Washington, D.C.

Fitzpatrick who is also the coordinator of the Middle East studies program, nominated Patti for the fellowship based on her prior experience serving as the only member of the press corps during the Washington simulation in 2014.

Fitzpatrick said she was impressed with Patti’s drive and commitment to the program as a freshman.

“Talk about a motivated self starter,” said Fitzpatrick about Patti. “There was just no question about it.”

While in Washington, D.C., Patti set up social media accounts and ran a newspaper to cover the event.

This year, she will serve as the assistant secretary general for the regional model in late February and plans to attend the national model once again.

Patti has not decided exactly what she’d like to do in the future, but she definitely knows it will deal with the Middle Eastern culture.

“I wanted to work for Al Jazeera and that dream hasn’t died,” Patti said. “But we have a lot of refugees coming to our area from Syria and Iraq so it might be best for me to stay here, but we’ll see.”

Patti recommends the Model Arab League to all students and thinks it’s a great opportunity for anyone regardless of their major.

“I think it’s important that students engage in programs like this,” Patti said. “The United States can’t solve the problems of the Middle East, that’s very condescending, but we can at least try to understand so that we can change the U.S. attitude towards the region so that we can help them.”