Students present work at State Department

On April 12, four Seton Hall University students presented their work for the SHU Abd el Kader Fellowship to the State Department in Washington, D.C.

The students began their research in September under the guidance of SHU alumnus, Mohamad Mirghahari, and presented their conclusion to the state department. Mirghahari explained what the research and the students’ overall experiences entailed.

“The AEK Fellowship students worked for the last academic year on a project for the State Department on how the United States might be able to identify common ground with the Taliban in order to build at least the basic relationship of trust necessary to move forward toward substantive peace talks,” he wrote in an email.

The fellowship created a number of opportunities for the students. According to Mirghahari, during the academic school year the students engaged with several current and former USG officials. The officials included figures from the State Department, former diplomats and current Special Operations Commanders stationed in Afghanistan. The students had the opportunity to receive feedback on their project from real-life professionals.

Some students shared their enthusiasm for their participation in the fellowship.

Michelle Perez, who is a Master of Arts candidate for Diplomacy and International Relations, found the fellowship to be an experience of its own kind.

“The fellowship was a once in a lifetime experience you dream about obtaining but may be lucky to win once in a while,” she expressed in an email. “It has pushed our team past all doubts, limitations, and boundaries, helping us discover unknown skills. We prepared to present our research, as if we were seasoned briefers, to high level negotiators and analysts of the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research”
For Perez, the students’ collaboration as a team and her individual work exceeded the expectations she originally had.

“It surpassed expectations. Both personal expectations in ability and capacity to comfortably articulate my research and I think generally, as a team we also surpassed our expectations. The feedback we received immediately following our presentation was a reflection these surpassed expectations. Truly, I could not believe it.”

William Virgili, a fourth-year diplomacy and international relations major, also found that their team was superior to his own.

“I felt that my experience throughout the AEK Fellowship was a glimpse into what it will be like to work as a part of a team in a professional atmosphere,” Virgili said in an email. “Our advisor recommended a direction for us to take, however, we ultimately had to agree on a direction, end-goal, and proper division of the work.”

Virgili claimed that within the group dynamic, the group was held accountable for each person’s individual work, yet reliant on each other’s cooperation.

“Without this cooperation, our individual work would have been insufficient in creating an effective proposal to present to the Department of State,” Virgili said. “The most important experience I will be taking away from this project is how to effectively work within a team in an independent and professional atmosphere.

Mirghahari shared that policy makers considered the students’ research and that the student will be able to keep paper copies in their possession.

“The presentation was very well received in addition to one senior official commenting: “I know the Emir very broadly but this gave some more perspective of how his story and narrative can fit today,” Mirghahari explained. “In addition to the presentation, the students published a paper on their research for the State Department titled ‘Shifting Narratives: Moving Towards Substantive Peace Talks.’ The paper will be distributed in Afghanistan to members of the State Department and will be shared with the Department of Defense and units that are currently supporting the mission in Afghanistan.”

Kaitlyn Quinn can be reached at

Author: Kaitlyn Quinn

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