Wilson Enrolls Palestinian Student as NeXXt Scholar

Wilson College is one of only eight women’s colleges in the United States to enroll a NeXXt Scholar for the fall 2012 semester. Ghada Tafesh, from the city of Gaza in the Palestinian territories, is majoring in biology and wants to become a physician.

The NeXXt Scholars Initiative originated with the U.S. Department of State and was launched in December 2011 by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in partnership with the New York Academy of Sciences, EducationUSA, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), EducationUSA and 38 U.S. women’s colleges,.

The initiative aims to advance young women from Muslim-majority countries by encouraging their pursuit of higher education in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) subject.

A former exchange student who spent a year in high school in the Laurel, Md., area, Ghada had hoped to return to the United States, and with the help of her former American host family and the AMIDEAST organization, which matched her to Wilson, she was admitted to the College.

“It was a golden thing for me — a once-in-a-life offer,” she said. “I come from a background where women are not given a lot of chances, and this college focuses on strengthening women.”

Ghada impressed the Wilson admissions officials when she was being considered for acceptance.

“Ghada told us that she seeks intellectual fulfillment along with leadership abilities, communication, teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making skills,” said Wilson Vice President for Enrollment Mary Ann Naso. “Wilson anticipates that we will benefit from the presence of this outstanding young woman.”

Ghada says she had hoped to study in the U.S. because its educational methods and facilities are the finest in the world, and she is focused on becoming the best physician she can be.

“I’m obsessed with being a doctor,” said Ghada, flashing a broad grin. “I’m ready to do anything to be a doctor. At home, it’s an occupied country and we don’t have good education and facilities for doctors. That was the biggest motivation for me to come here. I love biology and I love labs. We don’t have that (at home).”

As a NeXXt Scholar, Ghada is paired with a “STEM Sister,” Lindsey Sutton of Greencastle, Pa., who is one of 12 American NeXXt Scholars. Both students will receive a five-year membership in the New York Academy of Sciences and benefit from access to the organization’s internship, research and networking opportunities, as well as mentorship from NYAS members.

Ghada, who sees the membership and internship opportunities with NYAS as the biggest benefit of the NeXXt Scholar program, says the STEM Sister relationship with Lindsey is also valuable.

“She’s like the best sister ever. She’s one of my best friends here,” said Ghada, who is impressed with the warmth of the entire Wilson College campus. “Everybody’s friendly and they make you feel like you’re always welcome and they care about you here. Everybody’s always ready to do anything to help you.”

The financial benefits she is receiving are also an important incentive, according to Ghada, who says her family in Palestine could not afford to send her to college. Wilson is providing free tuition and room and board, while AMIDEAST provides assistance with transportation, books and health insurance.

Ghada has two siblings, a sister who is an exchange student in Alaska and a 10-year-old brother at home. Her father is an English teacher in Gaza and her mother works for the United Nations for Relief and Work Agency.

When she considers her future after college, Ghada is still weighing her options. She’s currently torn between becoming a pediatrician or a surgeon. Regardless, she knows she would like to work for Doctors without Borders or a similar organization, providing free medical services to people living in poor countries.

“I want to give them the best I can,” she said.

More information about the NeXXt Scholars Initiative can be found on the Department of State website at