From Oxford scholarships to pioneering projects, the university's 140 inaugural graduates are pushing boundaries around the world.
The University of Oxford is the oldest in the English-speaking world and one of the most prestigious on the planet. To be accepted to study there is considered not just an honour, but an affirmation of one’s extraordinary intelligence, character and commitment.
Postgraduate student Shamma Sohail Al Mazrui, a 22-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi, won a scholarship to Oxford last year. Her path there, however, began at a far younger university – here in the UAE.
Ms Al Mazrui says enrolling at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) was the best best decision she ever made. “Everything about NYUAD – from the students to the professors – made me challenge conventional ways of thinking and go out of my comfort zone to learn new topics.”
While her undergraduate economics research focused on Emirati females’ perception of the labour market, she is continuing to develop policies that could harness Emirati talent and improve the “public good”.
NYUAD, she says, not only fostered a hunger for knowledge, intellectual honesty and tolerance, but also, through its career development centre, “played an instrumental role in offering employment help and internships”.
Outside the classroom, she co-designed the NYU Al Nahda Institute for social and gender equality and leads a Down syndrome initiative.
For her endeavours, Ms Al Mazrui was awarded a Falcon Scholarship, to study a master’s in public policy at the University of Oxford’s School of Government. “Being surrounded by the brightest and creative minds of my generation continues to inspire me every day. It taught me that nothing is impossible,” she adds.
Ms Al Mazrui is just one of NYUAD’s 140 inaugural graduates, who are featured in a new report from the university. The students completed 22 programmes, broadly divided across social sciences, science and mathematics, arts and humanities, engineering and multidisciplinary studies.
The report, titled Life Beyond Saadiyat, reveals that more than half of its class of 2014 have already found work – across 16 different countries – and almost of fifth of them are earning more than Dh210,000 a year.
The report aims to assess how well the university has met its ambition to to equip students not just with a worldly, liberal-arts mentality, but with the skills and experience needed to compete in the modern workforce.
Revealingly, more than a third of the students featured had work published before graduating; almost all of them spent a full semester abroad; more than four-fifths held at least one internship and nearly three-quarters participated in community service.
One student who took full advantage of these opportunities is Zachary Stanley, a 22-year-old biology graduate from the United States, now studying medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.
Mr Stanley says NYUAD’s inaugural class had a unique opportunity to be an integral part of the university’s development, interacting with the administration on a personal level.
He did not even have a passport before his NYUAD interview and has since gained a new insight into other cultures. “As an American student looking to apply to medical school upon graduation, I found that having studied abroad set me apart from other, similar applicants.
“I have already found that being able to relate and be sensitive in cross-cultural encounters translates relatively well to showing the same level of respect and understanding to patients.”
Crucial to this were his experiences beyond the UAE – “once-in-a-lifetime adventures”, of which he says there were too many to recount. “Everything from exploring Mughal gardens in India; to working on an elephant reserve in northern Thailand; to studying socio-economics in Buenos Aires, were experiences that I would not have had at any other academic institution,” he explains.
He also interned at non-profit organisations and studied the UAE’s health-care system, which both affirmed that he had chosen the right path.
While he says his Abu Dhabi-based biology programme was not well known beyond the UAE, Mr Stanley adds professional schools were intrigued by it and interested in learning more about it.
“I am certain,” he says, “that my education was enriched beyond measure, because of these unique course components, and truly believe that higher education is moving towards a more global model – a more NYUAD-like model.”
NYUAD’s report found its employable graduates were the arts and humanities majors – of whom, almost three-quarters are already in work. Only 17 per cent of these graduates have opted to continue studying.
Meanwhile, just 6 per cent of its working graduates are operating in the engineering and energy sectors – although only 8 per cent of the class of 2014 actually studied engineering.
The vast majority of working graduates – almost a third – are employed in the education sector, followed by 15 per cent in consulting, 9 per cent in finance, 8 per cent in government.
Such numbers differ slightly from those at NYU’s New York campus, where, of those who graduated from summer 2013 to spring 2014, more than 85 per cent are already working. Of course, this long-established campus’s class of 2014 included more than 5,700 graduates, across 10 different schools – offering more than 230 areas of study. Of these graduates, 13 per cent are working in financial services and a further 13 per cent in entertainment and media, followed by 8 per cent in education.
However, New York campus students also seemed less keen to continue their studies, with just over 11 per cent now at graduate or professional schools – compared to a third of Abu Dhabi’s class of 2014.
Though postgraduate study is a luxury, it is one that NYUAD students have earned. Like Ms Al Mazrui, Charlotte Wang, a 22-year-old social research and public policy graduate, secured a scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. The Austrian, who grew up in the US, developed a passion for “sociological analysis of the empirical world”, and is now studying for a master of philosophy in sociology and demography. She says NYUAD was an “incredible academic experience”.
“The opportunity to work closely with faculty, its emphasis on interdisciplinary, and the support to shape and pursue our own research interests not only prepared me well for graduate school, but offered me meaningful tools with which to understand the world around me.”
Her seminar groups were small, which allowed for more inclusive discussions and problem-solving. Although the vast diversity of experiences and values in such groups also made consensus challenging, she says it taught her to continue revising her beliefs and ideas.
Although two-fifths of NYUAD’s inaugural graduates were from North America, the class of 2014 was represented by 49 nationalities, speaking 55 languages. The university has expanded its latest intake of students to 263, including 79 nationalities and 65 languages. It has also increased its number of UAE nationals, who now constitute roughly 10 per cent of the latest intake.
Of the graduates not working, those most keen to continue their studies were the scientists and mathematicians, with almost half opting to go to graduate or professional school.
One of these is Kharisa Rachmasari, a 23-year-old Indonesian biology graduate, now studying medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar.
Ms Rachmasari says NYUAD brings people from across the world together and encourages them to learn about new fields, cultures and places.
“As a student at NYUAD, I was so lucky to have all the access and privileges that I probably wouldn’t have found in other places. It seemed unrealistic to me until I was actually at the university, and I hope that I was not being spoiled; instead, I was making the best out of it.”
Although Ms Rachmasari took a few courses in economics, public health and others unrelated to biology, her most memorable experience at the university was the winter she spent studying art in London. The university encourages students to spend up to two semesters abroad at any of its 14 academic sites.
“We spent two to three hours every afternoon in galleries or museums in London, studying portrait painting. I had never studied or analysed paintings before, so it was totally different.”
Ms Rachmasari says the course gave her a newfound appreciation of the intricacy and history of art. “Since that course, I always get excited when I see paintings by Rembrandt or Manet.”