Master’s grad ready for train trip, return to Iraq

commencement graduate iraq

Saja Al-Quzweeni beamed with pride on the day she received her master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

She joined more than 700 fellow students in taking part in the ceremony May 16 at the Kress Events Center, but not another newly minted graduate in the record graduating class had quite the same itinerary.

Saja (at right above) was UW-Green Bay’s first Iraqi student and graduate. She plans to return to her home city of Baghdad, Iraq, in a few weeks equipped with optimism and newfound expertise in environmental issues.

“Iraq has many problems today — social, political, economic — but we have the power to address those problems and make them better,” she says.

Before she heads overseas, however, she has a little of the United States to see.

Saja came to UW-Green Bay through the Fulbright Foreign Student program, designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of America and the people of other countries.

Recently, she was one of six ‘Fulbrighters’ selected to participate in the third Millenial Trains Project.

It’s a journey across the United States — leaving from Los Angeles, California on May 21 and ending in Washington, DC on May 31— as an enrichment component of the Fulbright Foreign Student program. The six exchange students will join 20 American riders on the MTP journey to gain an in-depth understanding of life in the United States and to strengthen their skills in leadership, social entrepreneurship, and communication.

commencement graduate iraq

During her time at UW-Green Bay, Saja pursued an interest in urban farming and also the conditions that encourage or inhibit citizen involvement in, say, environmental issues.

She worked on her master’s thesis under the supervision of political scientist David Helpap and former professor Dallas Blaney. She chose the title: “Conceptualizing Political Empowerment: Reflections from Non-Governmental Organizations Through the Lens of Civil Society Theories.”

The focus of her Fulbright work will be an extension of research she completed last year at Growing Power, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee that works in urban agriculture as an approach to increase food security in lower-income and food desert communities. Small plots of land are used for intensive growing to offer healthy and affordable food to inner cities, while merging agriculture and wise environmental practices to revitalize urban areas.

Saja earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Baghdad in 2002, and struggled to find a job amid the chaos of the American invasion of Iraq the next year. She was patient when sectarian tension forced her family out of its home for 18 months in 2007-08, and patient in pursuing her dream to attend graduate school in the United States.

She said she loved the beauty, serenity and friendliness of UW-Green Bay, although the record cold she experienced was a little bit of a challenge.

Saja formerly held a job with the Iraqi government, where she worked as a senior researcher. Whether she will be able to return to government employment is unknown to her at this time. Regardless, she says, she is eager to return to Iraq and work for the betterment of her people.