Wednesday, July 10, 2013

MEET = staff + students (+ instructors)

This summer at MEET was a fantastic learning experience for me (and I hope for the students!). What is MEET? MEET is, simply put, what you get when you put together the Middle East staff, the MIT instructors, and of course the Israeli and Palestinian students. 

The staff

The full-time staff in the Middle East at MEET is as close to 50-50 Israeli-Palestinian as possible. All the staff are as closely involved with the students as possible, and all work towards achieving MEET's mission: in short, to empower Israeli and Palestinian youth to create positive social, political, and economic change in the region. 

CEO, program manager, TA, alumni coordinator, director, facilitator. Sometimes we get bogged down in the names, but in short, all the staff deserve a piece of the shared responsibility pie. 

Noa, Ala, Talya, Mustafa, Abdallah, Noga, Manal, Dikla, Dana, Marina, Ahmed, Shira, Amin, Uriel, Liel, Sadek, Xander, hopefully not too many more that I forgot. These were some of the people who were responsible for making up the staff contingent this summer at MEET. They worked hard every day to make sure the students and instructors had the resources they needed to succeed - without the dedication of the staff, MEET would not exist. 

The students

The students I had the pleasure of teaching were some of the best and brightest I've had the pleasure of teaching in the past. Coming from a range of backrounds - Israeli, Palestinian, male, female, from Jerusalem-area, from Nazareth-area, the students were all the same in one respect: they had a passion for learning. They were all at MEET because of their talents - they excel in school and want more challenges. They want to change their own perspectives about the world by exposing themselves to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They wanted to learn computer science and business. 

During the summer, the students split their time into three chunks - business, computer science, and deeper understanding. The MIT instructors are responsible for the business and computer science sections, and this summer we worked them hard. From 9am to 7pm every day, the students are busy mastering skills in business and CS that will help them make an impact on society in the future. 

Talking to the students during breaks and meals, you learn that they each have a unique passion - some want to go to medical school, some are in love with robots, some want to start businesses, become politicians, cure cancer, go to the moon. In other words, they are a typical cross-section of motivated youth from anywhere else in the world. The difference with these students is their maturity - they live in a society that deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a daily basis, and as a result they've (mostly) learned to deal with problems with more-than-high-school style. They ponder, they discuss, they solve. (Don't get me wrong, they're still high school students and have lots to learn, but in some respects they are more mature than their American counterparts). The other difference with these students is that they at least have the mastery of  at least two languages (many, 3 or more). That is something American schooling won't be competing with any time soon. 

Without the students, MEET would not exist. Your job is to have a passion for learning so that the staff and instructors can teach and mentor and instruct about the world at large. MEET exists for the students, so keep being awesome to give us a reason to keep doing our jobs!

The instructors

The instructors that get recruited for the summer component of MEET hail from many different wakes of life. Most have ties to MIT, but some get recruited by happenstance. 

Meet the instructors from summer 2013: Julia, Tim, Jamie, Elena, Alex, Sally, Sean, Sesha, Kyle, Aline, Michele, Nikhil, Lorenzo, Salahuddin, Neha, Zafir, Christine, Marvin. 

We all are passionate about what we do and we love teaching it - our job is to facilitate learning business and computer science in an experience as intense as we (and the students) can handle. We take our inspiration from our own experiences - at MIT, at Google, at work, at home, elsewhere. We bring to the students our experiences from the US (and abroad elsewhere), but throw all that out the window when it comes to learning. When it comes to the classroom, we buckle down and teach our subjects as best we can. Because we all are "experts" in our fields (I say it in quotes because some of us are recent grads or still in school), we want to make sure we teach our material with the appropriate level of respect it deserves. But we do more than teach - we talk to the students about our own experiences (CS, business, and otherwise), trying to share some of our hobbies, knowledge, and passions outside of our fields with them. 

Without the instructors, MEET would just be like plain old summer camp. We bring to the table our intensity and experience to make MEET more than a summer camp - MEET is an intense learning experience for our students. 

Putting it all together

Without the instructors, without the students, without the staff, MEET is nothing. MEET is not a summer camp, it's not just an after-school program, it's not just another NGO. MEET is a program that brings together passionate adults in the Middle East, inquisitive and motivated students, and intense instructors from MIT, Google, and elsewhere. We put them all together in a classroom, tell them to learn CS and business, and make awesome happen as a result. 

MEET = staff + students (+ instructors). Easy. 

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