As Leina Saikali embarks on her post-college life, she knows that education is essential to making lasting changes in the world.
“Without education, we’re pretty ineffective and unable to actually cause a change,” says the psychology graduate and Kellogg Honors Scholar. “If you know more, then you can go out and teach other people. I think ignorance breeds a lot of bad consequences. It breeds anger and hatred. It doesn’t breed constructive solutions.”
Upset and motivated by the reports of genocide in Darfur, Saikali began educating herself on the situation and other injustices in the world. She was accepted into the Intelligence Community Scholars Program at Cal Poly Pomona and won a travel scholarship to study in Paris during the summer. In 2008, she participated in an internship program in Washington, D.C., and learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The program gave her the opportunity to meet with Capitol Hill staff and lobby from an American security interest perspective for the United States to take an active role in the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
Although the meetings with the legislative aides were somewhat disheartening and not as successful as she would have hoped, Saikali says it was an important lesson. She realized that political change comes only when voters care about an issue and pressure their elected officials to act.
“Elected officials do what their voters want. So the first step for change is to educate people,” she says. “I got the idea to be an advocate and raise awareness to get people to care more. It proved to me that there’s something I can do. Activism is possible. I just need to be educated.”
This past year, Saikali joined the National Model United Nations Team, which represented Guinea at the annual conference in New York. She took a leadership position with the campus Lebanese Student Association, which hosted a national convention for more than 100 Lebanese students from around the country at Kellogg West. Saikali also started a Rotaract chapter based in Los Angeles for Lebanese young adults.
Norma Leon, coordinator of Undeclared Services, says Saikali is a model college student who exudes a passion for life, learning and making a difference. “She has been a sponge soaking college life in,” Leon says. “She is well-rounded, intrinsically curious about the world, and her open-mindedness has allowed her to take part in many diverse experiences that have enriched her life as a student and as an individual.”
After graduation, Saikali is considering several options, including joining the Peace Corps, working for the United Nations, becoming a human rights activist, or pursuing a master’s degree in international studies emphasizing in conflict resolution & peace studies. No matter which path she chooses, Saikali knows that it will take education and time.
“I want to learn more, to see what I can do,” she says. “It’s so valuable to meet other people and learn about the world. Challenging your own thoughts and way you see the world is one of the most important things I’ve learned.”