Scholarship recipient and political science student Sarah Hakim advocates for policy change during CAHS-funded trip to Washington, D.C.

Sarah Hakim

UAH political science student and advocate Sarah Hakim

Michael Mercier | UAH

Sarah Hakim, a junior working toward her degree in political science and philosophy, likes keeping her options open. And that’s just what she’s doing as she pursues the many opportunities available to her through scholarship support at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System.

Hakim came to UAH with plans to major in computer engineering; after taking an elective political science class her first semester, however, her plans changed. “I’ve always been interested in political science,” Hakim shares, “But I was concerned I wouldn’t have job opportunities.” Making that shift, she says, was the right choice and worth any extra work. “Changing majors can seem scary, because it feels like you’re getting set back, but if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to love it and you’re going to do well in it.” Hakim adds: “At first I wondered if UAH would be the right school to pursue political science, but our department is amazing with so many opportunities.”

One of those opportunities presented itself when Hakim was invited in September 2021 to present research and speak with members of Congress, their staff and federal agency officials about international parental child abductions (IPCA). The subject is one dear to Hakim after taking a special topics course, Policies and Politics of Child Abduction, with Dr. Noelle Hunter. Dr. Hunter is the founder of iStand, an organization focused on finding ways to bring American children home after experiencing parental abductions, and Dr. Hunter, Hakim, and other UAH students in that course attended the 2021 iStand Parent Network’s 8th Annual International Parents Conference & Embassy Walk.

While there, Dr. Hunter was invited to testify at a hearing on The Rights of Parents and Children: How to Better Implement the Goldman Act. The students met with Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville to discuss IPCA and to present a reform bill, and they spoke with the current Director of the Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State, Alison Dilworth, and the former Director, Scott Renner. It was at this meeting where Hakim shared her idea for an innovative tracking system to follow case activity for child abductions across various agencies.

This formative experience was Hakim’s first trip to the nation’s capital, and it provided her an insider’s view on how the legislative process works. “Just entering the building and seeing how everything works was insightful. We were able to ask Senator Tuberville questions and propose legislation ideas. We also met with his staff, and it made me think I might want to work as a congressional staff member one day,” she explains. “Everything I was learning in my books was happening in real time.”

Hakim emphasizes the trip to the capital was paid for entirely by funds from the Department of Political Science and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHS). “We had to submit an abstract and go through the Chair and the Dean,” Hakim says. “[The College] paid for everything: the hotel, the transportation, tickets. We only had to pay for our morning cup of coffee.” Without this support from CAHS, these students, including Hakim, would not have been able to pursue their career goals and go on this life-changing trip without worrying about the financial impact.

That trip to Washington, D.C. opened a door for the student to serve as a liaison between iStand and its Lebanese counterpart, iHope, with the aim, she says, to “increase policy work and relationships between the American organization and the Middle Eastern one.” The attorney who founded iHope has invited Hakim and Dr. Hunter to Lebanon to work more closely with them and see how their organization functions. Hakim also speaks regularly with iHope’s founder to learn about how the laws differ between the United States and other countries and how government and cultural differences affect those laws.

Dr. Hunter believes Hakim is poised to use these unique opportunities to launch her career in politics: “Sarah is an emerging scholar whom I've been privileged to have as a student in several upper-division political science courses. She is intelligent and quite diligent in her studies. I am confident that she will make significant research and public policy contributions in this field.”

Back at UAH, Hakim continues to seek out chances to increase her knowledge and skills. After taking American Congress, a Senate simulation class, last fall, Hakim joined a Senate Simulation Club. Hakim was voted President Pro Tempore, and she presides over the meetings in which they discuss and vote on legislation. This Fall, Hakim took American Presidency, a course in which each class member serves a cabinet position and they simulate a real presidential term. Hakim served as the Secretary of Education, and these simulations, Hakim says, are necessary for learning. “Just like engineers and biology students have labs, we have simulations. It’s important that we don’t just read out of a book, but that we can act out roles. Doing the work is much different than reading about it.”

Hakim is also busy applying for internships to provide additional hands-on experience. “I’ve got several applications out right now,” she notes. “One is with POC Capitol Interns, where I would stay in a dorm on George Washington University’s campus and work with a congressional staff member, and one is an internship with the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.”

Any of these internships will propel Hakim to an exciting career, and these opportunities are possible because she’s pursuing her degree at UAH. Recently, Hakim learned she will be living in Washington, D.C. in June for the Department of Justice internship, made possible through UAH’s Honors College.

Scholarships give a confidence boost to students and make them feel appreciated. Students often shy away from a subject or career they’re passionate about because it might not make a lot of money. When you receive a scholarship like this, you feel confident that what you’re doing is good and you can continue doing it.

Sarah Hakim
UAH political science student and advocate

As for future plans, Hakim says, “As I continue to grow in this field, with the many role models UAH’s Political Science discipline has provided, I have found that political science offers so many possibilities. This is why I’m taking every opportunity I can find where I can have the most impact.” She is currently in the JUMP program at UAH, which means in five years she’ll have both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. From there, Hakim sees many possible pathways. She is studying for the LSAT with plans to attend law school, but she also hopes to gain experience teaching political science in a high school setting. Doing so would help her have more experience and knowledge about the education system in the United States, setting her up for future career options in higher levels of government.

Hakim acknowledges that her ability to participate in these activities was limited by her need to work to pay for school. She is a recipient of the Felix L. Newman Scholarship and is the first recipient of the Adam J. Kubik Scholarship for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “I was working practically full time,” Hakim admits, “but with the scholarships I’ve been given, I have been able to decrease my hours and only work on the weekends. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills and I can focus on learning.”

Gifts to support student scholarships are more than just the money, Hakim asserts. “Scholarships give a confidence boost to students and make them feel appreciated. Students often shy away from a subject or career they’re passionate about because it might not make a lot of money. When you receive a scholarship like this, you feel confident that what you’re doing is good and you can continue doing it.” These days, Hakim’s confidence is high: “Political science is what I’m most passionate about and what makes me happiest. When I attended the iStand conference it was very emotional. My hope is to pursue a career that helps people directly.”



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