Alumna, McDermott Scholar Wins Top Honor Society Fellowship

Dina Shahrokhi is a McDermott Scholar and 2011 UT Dallas graduate who has now won a Phi Kappa Phi fellowship.

When Dina Shahrokhi graduated from UT Dallas in spring 2011 and headed to Syria to work with the United Nations on relief efforts for Palestinian refugees, she had no idea of the turmoil that lay ahead.

Shortly after her arrival in Damascus, which she calls “the most beautiful place I’ve ever known,” the Arab Spring uprising began to spread throughout the Middle East. As revolutionaries engaged loyalists, electricity and communication channels became disrupted or monitored.

Then a suicide bomb went off in December 2011. Shahrokhi began to avoid densely populated areas and stopped taking the U.N. bus to work so she wouldn’t be a target.

“It definitely was unsettling. That’s when things became scary for me,” she said. “I had never lived with anything so uncertain, but I was so impressed by the bravery of the people there. You see people still going out and living their lives.”

And she can’t wait to go back.

Shahrokhi’s commitment to working for peace in the Middle East has been recognized with a $15,000 fellowship from the honor society of Phi Kappa Phi (PKP). She is one of six graduate students in the U.S. to receive the Marcus L. Urann Fellowship, given to Phi Kappa Phi members entering the first year of graduate or professional study.   

Currently a research associate for the Middle East at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, Shahrokhi will begin graduate studies at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in the fall and hopes to become a Middle East policy-maker and international mediator.

She was elated when she heard she had received the fellowship.

“Oh, my gosh, I was so excited,” she said. “I couldn’t help shrieking a little in my office.”

“Foreign policy work is often viewed as an old folks club. But it’s a whole new ballgame now that it’s become a youth movement. I actually understand what they’re fighting for. There’s a desire to have more and to do more.”

Dina Shahrokhi,
alumna and graduate student

Her interest in international mediation stems from her time at UT Dallas, where she majored in political science in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. Shahrokhi served as Student Government vice president in 2010-11. She participated for four years in the National Mediation Tournament sponsored by The International Academy of Dispute Resolution, and found that the skills used in peacemaking were a good fit.

“I absolutely loved it. I really like the idea of working out conflicting ideas rather than going to court,” she said. “I have a personality where I like to talk with people. I believe the best way to work out a problem is to talk about it.”

As a McDermott Scholar and the recipient of a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department, Shahrokhi has visited several Middle Eastern countries, including Morocco. She also spent a semester at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., as a Bill Archer Fellow.

Shahrokhi feels it’s a good time to enter foreign policy work because recent uprisings have created opportunities for change in such areas as women’s rights, the democratic process and economic expansion. 

“Foreign policy work is often viewed as an old folks club. But it’s a whole new ballgame now that it’s become a youth movement,” she said. “I actually understand what they’re fighting for. There’s a desire to have more and to do more.”

Dr. Edward Harpham, associate provost and director of the University’s Collegium V Honors Program, said Shahrokhi’s fellowship award is well-deserved.

“Dina’s win reflects her continued hard work, passion and energy for expanding her understanding of the politics and culture of the Middle East since graduation,” Harpham said. “Being nominated by our local chapter of PKP and winning the Fellowship is another indication that you never really leave UT Dallas behind after graduation.”

Besides the six $15,000 fellowships, the honor society also awards 51 fellowships of $5,000 each. Last year, Emily Lichtenheld, a May 2012 UT Dallas graduate in economics and international political economy, received a $5,000 fellowship.

“We are extremely proud of Dina and Emily. They are both exemplars of what Phi Kappa Phi was created to recognize and represent the quality of students we will continue to invite to membership in our chapter,” said Rafael Martín, associate vice president for research and UT Dallas chapter president.

This year, 190 applicants across the country competed for the fellowships. Each Phi Kappa Phi chapter may select only one candidate from among its local applicants to compete for the awards, so internal competition can be intense, said Dr. Douglas Dow, coordinator of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships and associate director of the Collegium V program.

“I wouldn’t have received this honor without the help of my alma mater,” Shahrokhi said. “I have worked on many scholarship applications with Dr. Dow — my sixth, seventh draft some times. I am so thankful for all his support for this scholarship.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].