Reflecting on an Incredible Semester at the El-Hibri Foundation

Isabella, a AU GAP student, smiles behind a camera at her internship site.

Me at my internship in the El-Hibri Foundation

With just a few weeks left of this semester in the AU Gap program, I find myself reflecting on my gap experience and the lessons I will take away. Through classes and workshops, I’ve learned valuable interview and networking skills. I now have a polished resume, know how to write a cover letter, and feel prepared to apply for future jobs and internships. And, going to college, I’ll already have internship experience which will set me apart from my peers.

This semester, I’ve interned at the El-Hibri Foundation (EHF), an organization that equips Muslim leaders and allies with the tools to build thriving, inclusive communities through grants and various programs. EHF provides grants to nonprofits that serve American Muslim Communities. They also offer resources in areas like capacity-building and strategic planning. With my interest in international relations, social justice, and empowering marginalized groups, I knew before I even started interning that EHF would offer invaluable lessons.

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of my internship has been working during the trainings that EHF offers their grantees. Earlier this month, I assisted the foundation during a Nonprofit Management Training, transcribing speeches, greeting attendees, and filming and recording the event. Each task provided insights into event work and how events run smoothly: picture that image of a swan, graceless and effortless above water, frantically paddling below. But in between running up and down flights of stairs with each new task, I had the opportunity to network with the event participants. I spoke to employees at think tanks, respected imams, and even a former diplomat! And in the moments where I was sitting, taking in each word the speakers were saying, I had the chance to learn alongside these notable people. Over my time at the El-Hibri Foundation, I’ve developed a profound appreciation for the work they, and other nonprofits like them, do. I’ve been welcomed into the foundation, learning valuable lessons from people I’ve come to deeply respect, and I have a sense that the work I’ve done is appreciated and valued. I feel grateful that I’ve had this experience; grateful to the El-Hibri Foundation and the AU Gap program. I can’t think of another place where I would have the opportunity to explore my passions in such a way. With just a few weeks left of this program, I can’t wait to see what my remaining time entails, and I’ll be sure to soak up every ounce of new information I learn. – Isabelle Moshiri- Elwood, AU GAP Program Student

What would you ask if you had the chance to sit down and chat with a diplomat?

AU Gap Students outside the Turksih Embassy

What do Turkish and Russian diplomats have to say about the refugee crisis in Syria? How about their opinion on the importance of cultural diplomacy and “soft power”? This month, GAP students got the inside scoop on what it means to be among the most influential global leaders in international politics, in two countries that have fostered unique relationships with the United States.

As Communications Coordinator for American University’s School of Professional & Extended Studies, my job is to highlight the stories of our students — be it an uplifting profile on a student fighting for veterans’ rights, or an event preview that discussed race, politics, poetry, and the internet age. At the Russian Embassy this month, students met with Deputy Head of the Economic Section, Grigory Zasypkin. At the Turkish Embassy the following week, they attended a private seminar on cultural diplomacy with Embassy Counselor Celil Erdogan.

At the Russian Embassy, students took part in a private tour of the opulent Ceremonial Building. Designed by Soviet architect Michael Posokhin, the 39-year-old construction is used for press conferences, public events, special receptions, seminars, and diplomatic meetings alike. Our tour guide for the afternoon truly said it best — the Russian Embassy is “a city within a city”!

Just a 20-minute walk away, in the heart of Washington, D.C.’s famed Embassy Row neighborhood, Mr. Erdogan and GAP International Relations professor Gul Gur lead an enriching discussion on the constructs of Erdogan’s work. He also went into depth about the success of past diplomatic campaigns and how they ventured to showcase Turkish national identity to a wider global audience. One such campaign is their annual “Turkey Home” event, where artists, journalists, clergymen, intellectuals and other “opinion makers” come together at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Ankara to network and forward the mission of culture-making in Turkey.

One of the most powerful takeaways from these visits was how receptive and collaborate these diplomats came across to our students. They were invested in opening the floor for enriching discussions — especially as they relate to the ways they can show the richness of their respective cultural histories. Perhaps much of the reason why they have achieved the positions they hold today is due to their pride and gratitude for being an visible representative of their home countries.

What would you ask if you had the chance to sit down and chat with a diplomat?

-Kelly Kimball, Communications Coordinator

Exploring My Passions at My Internship

When I decided to attend the AU Gap program, I knew that I wanted to use the unique opportunity to get involved in work that I was passionate about. This intent was what eventually drove me towards my internship with Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women leaders all over the world to reach their full potential. Founded by Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, among others, Vital Voices has provided a key mentorship and support network to a diverse population of women spanning the globe. As someone deeply passionate about female empowerment and leadership, an internship with Vital Voices is an incredible opportunity to gain a first-hand understanding of the nonprofit sector, the inner workings of a global network, and above all, the power of women empowering women. 

With just a month of my internship under my belt, I have already gained a range of invaluable experiences. I have gotten to sit-in on fascinating panels and meetings and have been exposed to a wide variety of projects within the organization. I have the pleasure of working with a fantastic group of women and men who make every effort to ensure that my internship is an enriching learning experience. The skills I have acquired and the lessons I have learned from them thus far have already significantly strengthened my professional abilities.

Yet, what really makes interning with Vital Voices such an important experience for me is being welcomed into a movement of women and men working together to ignite change towards a future of gender equality. To work in an environment of inclusion, empowerment, and optimism, as well as to explore a viable career path before attending college, has given me an invaluable opportunity to develop and explore my passions. I am beyond excited to continue to learn and grow through my AU Gap experience!

– Hannah George, AU Gap Student, Spring 2018

Joining the Conversation in Washington, D.C.

Although New York City claims the title for “The City that Never Sleeps,” I would argue that Washington, D.C. is “The City that Never Remains Silent.” The District is alive with conversation, and any passersby can overhear a conversation over simple preferences to a lively debate over the political issues frequently depicted in The Washington Post. Our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is an incubator for problem-solving; the place where passionate discussion centers around the nuanced and multifaceted problems facing the United States today.

It is for that reason I decided to spend the second half of my gap year in the American University Gap Program. The AU Gap Program recognizes the importance of immersing its students into the Washington D.C. culture by actively promoting internships within the city.

When I was first accepted to the AU Gap Program, I imagined I would actively participate in the Washington political arena by working on the Hill or a think tank. However, as I participated in the internship fair, I found myself innately pulled towards organizations that advanced these conversations by providing the facts that either party could interpret. I was specifically attracted to the National Archives and Records Administration, an organization whose museum I had visited numerous times during my visits to D.C. Following an application and interview, I accepted a position at the Boeing Learning Center at the National Archives. 

I was inspired by the Education department’s initiative to promote lifelong learning by utilizing some of the Archives’ over 15 billion records. The National Archives is decidedly nonpartisan, and I enjoyed the idea that I could present facts and documents and all visitors to discern their perspectives. I believe the analysis of the past informs current decision making and shapes our future. This sentiment coincides with the Washington D.C. culture of conversation and stimulates curiosity in students of all ages.

In my past few weeks as an intern, I was granted numerous opportunities and responsibilities I could have never imagined. I recently met with the Archivist of the United States, and I was able to talk to him at length about his journey and his favorite pieces from the collection. I have also been able to assist with tours of the National Archives, and as well as develop a new activity for the Boeing Learning Center. In the coming weeks, I will help with the influx of visitors for the Emancipation Proclamation, volunteer at the National Archives Sleepover, and manage activities for Friendship Between Nations Day.

This internship has allowed me to not only develop professional skills beneficial to the workforce but also better understand my intellectual curiosities. I have been fortunate for the many opportunities I have been presented thus far in my AU Gap experience, and I look taking advantage of the many opportunities Washington D.C. has to offer.

– John Larsen, AU Gap Student, Spring 2018

Self-Discovery in the AU Gap Program!

There is nothing quite like waking up in the nation’s capital with a cohort of like-minded students, engaging in the realities of young adult life—all while trying to make better sense of ourselves and who we would like to become in an increasingly competitive and vibrant society.

The above was my motivation for taking a gap year – I wanted to discover a better sense of myself and who I would like to become. For the first half of my gap year, I was plagued by seemingly insurmountable difficulties and tragedy at home and had some trouble with this goal. My daily routine consisted of working five hours a day in the real world of “grown-ups” and the hustle and bustle of the tri-state’s urban sprawl. I would spend the evenings with my grandparents over jeopardy and some unfathomably delicious meal my grandmother prepared earlier that afternoon. The day usually came to a close around 9PM. Let us, for argument’s sake, agree that there was little room for me to do any real social and intellectual blossoming in the crowded square footage of my bedroom, bathed in the analog light of Friends on Nick at Nite.

As January started though, I found myself on AU’s campus. I was nervous, but also exhilarated by the idea of being inherently unique as a gap year student. Orientation thrust me into the great work of honing my interview and job marketing skills, questioning most notions I had about what it meant to intern or develop a career. I got to explore the historic landscape of DC with my new friends, though ultimately taking dead last in the scavenger hunt that would have landed us the hottest ticket in town at the Italian embassy.

Next, Professor Gur jumped right into the experiences that make the AU Gap Program so unique – visits to the US Institute of Peace and the State Department are only the beginning of the adventures she will enthusiastically guide us in exploring throughout this semester. I’ve also done some surveying of my own, visiting historic Georgetown and a talk led by Jeb Bush at the American Enterprise Institute. As a liberal, the latter was a fascinating cross-ideological discussion of school choice in the face of an ever increasingly automated technological society. I feel right at home in DC’s political arena.

I can only imagine what awaits me as I become more a part of the AU community and work as a social media and digital content intern with the National Press Club with the news media clearinghouse American Forum. The dream to one day be dead center in the Fourth Estate as a media specialist is being realized earlier than I ever conceived possible. My hopes for self-discovery and personal actualization are already becoming less ethereally existential, and more of a reality thanks to what I hope will be a great semester. The amazing friends, the exquisite cuisine of DC’s diverse communities, and the immense history and promise in this city are an undeniable part of what has so far made my experience one of the best of my life. Here’s to more greatness in the months to come!

– Nicholas Massenburg-Abraham, AU Gap Student, Spring 2018


AU Gap Student, Bobby Ramkissoon, attended AU’s Crucial Conversations talk with award-winning spoken word poet and actor Theo Wilson and Washington Post reporter and AU alumnus, Peter Holley. Holley and Wilson discussed Wilson’s undercover journey as a “digital White Supremacist,” what he learned about the impact of the internet, and the value of community dialogue.

Empathy and The Power of the Arts

Being accepted into the American University Gap Year program was an incredible opportunity for me. The program can be a home for political enthusiasts, and politics has been my passionate purpose and intended career path for as long as I can remember. I entered the program ready to jump into the political scene in Washington D.C. When applying to internships, I predominantly applied to congressional offices. I always knew I wanted a profession in politics and working on Capitol Hill just seemed like the most obvious first step. But after having interviewed with several congressional staffers where they had laid out my responsibilities as an intern, I didn’t feel as interested in the internships as I thought I would be. I wanted to be proud of the work I had completed at the end of the day and felt as if I was contributing to something greater then myself. I hoped that through participating in this program, I would be making a difference by impacting someone in a way that I’m not entirely aware of. I was hopeful that my presence would enhance or inspire, or even challenge, the people around me, and in turn, help me reach for the best that there is and give the best of myself.

As a result, I decided to look for opportunities to develop intellectually and professionally in a deeper way. Through much research and deliberation, I inevitably found myself in the realm of non-profits. Non-profit organizations establish themselves with the goal to meet a tangible need, instead of the goal to make money by meeting that need, which seems contra to our current political system. Out of the hundreds of non-profit organizations in Washington D.C., the one that stood out to me the most was Split This Rock.

The mission of Split This Rock is to cultivate, teach, and celebrate poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. I have always been fascinated by the power of the arts. All through high school, I was an active member of the Performing Arts department. As an actor, I spent time living another person’s life and seeing things from their perspective. I had prejudices about people and places that blocked me from seeing their uniqueness and individuality. But through theatre, I was able to get beyond these labels to appreciate the personal stories of the people in their circumstances. I am able to have conversations with people who I may never meet outside of a fictional setting. Acting has nurtured an unyielding curiosity about others and, in turn, broadened my sense of personal identity. Reflecting on this experience, I gradually became convinced that the most effective way to achieve social change was not through the traditional means of party politics and introducing new laws and policies, but through changing the way people treat each other on an individual basis, in other words, through empathy. And I have found, that there is no better tool to elicit an empathic response than art.

Art has a better chance of changing hearts and minds over black and white statistics. The numbers are readily available, but the stories are not. Stories are an empathic magus that can enable us to shed our own skin and step into another way of looking at the world. Empathy has the power to erode our cultures of violence and racism and extend boundaries of our moral concerns. It may just be that empathy is the key to what will change the political culture.

– Yougeshwar “Bobby” Ramkissoon Jr.
AU Gap Student, Fall 2017

From the Founding Principles to Separation of Powers to Civil Liberties, Media, & Beyond

The semester is half over and the AU Gap students have been busy taking advantage of all DC has to offer through their Seminar in American Politics. Below Professor Marie Fritz shares what the students have been studying the past few weeks and how they have been able to use DC as their classroom.

In an effort to address salient issues occurring in politics and society, we started off the semester in our Seminar in American Politics class with a visit to Arlington House Museum (the home of Robert E. Lee), adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.  In class we talked about political memory, the potential for reconciliation, and how some dominant ideologies remain in our political culture.  Like many other introductory courses in U.S. Politics, we shifted to an exploration of the Founding principles and the structure of American government.  Exploring philosophical ideas such as liberalism and republicanism, we visited the National Archives to view the U.S. Constitution along with other Founding documents of the United States.  In class the students worked together to draft portions of a new U.S. Constitution with the student groups based in specific geographic regions of the United States.  It was fascinating to see how students would design elections and change the representation of the people in Congress, as well as to establish the rights of groups that had been previously excluded.

After discussing the U.S. Constitution, we moved on to federalism and the separation of powers.  We enjoyed an educational boat tour of the Anacostia River on the east side of the District of Columbia hosted by Anacostia Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization with a mission to protect and restore the river, and discussed environmental federalism and the ways in which the structure of our government impacts public policy decisions at the federal, state, and local levels.  We even saw a bald eagle!

We examined civil liberties and media at the Newseum and watched a documentary about the Freedom Riders to learn more about the relationship between federalism and the promotion of civil rights.  As we turned to studying the three branches of government we had the opportunity to meet Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (a non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives for the District of Columbia) with a talk on the floor of the House of Representatives, followed by a student-led tour of the Capitol building.  We visited the Supreme Court and enjoyed a lecture in the main courtroom where oral arguments are held.  Finally, we examined various theories related to the presidency and completed a project about budgeting decisions and the executive branch using the question, “If you were an advisor to the current President, which programs would you cut from the federal budget to advance your administration’s priorities?” to guide the discussion.

In the last part of the semester we will explore public opinion, campaigns and elections, interest groups, and social policy with professionals who work in the areas of polling, campaigns, and public policy.  I am excited to see how the final section of the semester unfolds.

– Dr. Marie J. Fritz, AU Gap Professor, Fall 2017



The Seminar and my Internship = the Perfect Combination

AU Gap Students enjoy a boat tour with the Anacoatia Riverkeepers.

It’s been about six weeks since we’ve arrived on campus, and finally all of us Gap students are settled into our working and class schedules. It was quite the transition from being a high school senior taking eight classes, to preparing for an internship fair and going on site visits my first week in D.C.

Our in-class site visits have taken us everywhere from the Arlington National Cemetery to the Newseum – my personal favorite. In between those two, we’ve seen the National Archives, National Monuments, and even been on a boat tour of the Anacostia River. When us Gap students aren’t exploring D.C., we’re usually discussing topics from our American Politics Seminar, or updating each other on all of our exciting internship opportunities.

The internship I have chosen to take this semester is in the Congressional Office of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. Her office is located in the Cannon House Office Building, and she represents the 21st district of New York. She is the youngest Congresswoman to be voted into the House. Working in such a young and professional office is enjoyable and inspiring.

My biggest responsibilities in the office consist of speaking with constituents on issues the Congresswoman will vote on, and giving tours of the Capitol building. Getting to the Capitol at first from Cannon was a tricky task, but after doing it a couple of times, I’ve got it down. I’ve learned a ton of interesting fun facts, some being about how the Capitol is haunted!

I can easily say that the American Politics Seminar and my Hill internship make the perfect combination for me this semester. I am honored to be where I am, and am looking forward to the rest of this semester here at AU.

– Molly Kopp, AU Gap Student, Fall 2017