Twenty-five 11th-grade students are one step closer to becoming creators, inventors, scientists and leaders with their graduation recently as the first cohort of the Saudi Research Science Institute (S-RSI) at the Auditorium of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
S-RSI Aims to Develop Young Talent
Photo by Saudi Aramco
From the time the students came to the opening convocation on July 1 until the graduation ceremony in August, a transformation in their character, confidence and scholastic achievements could be seen.
The young people were joined at the award ceremony at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology by their mentors, professors, program administrators and management from the university, King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), Saudi Aramco and the Center of Excellence in Education (CEE) in the United States.
This residential summer internship program was conducted over six weeks and focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — summarized as “STEM.” It provides a mentorship model that combines theory courses and research.
Twenty-five research papers were completed and evaluated, and awards were given to top scholars on subjects such as nanotechnology, genetic engineering, coral reef ecology, marine biology, organometallic chemistry and computational math.
Preparation for this year’s program began in October 2009.
S-RSI is based on a four-part partnership initiated by Saudi Aramco’s Training and Development organization in coordination with the university, Mawhiba, and CEE. CEE established the U.S. Research Science Institute (RSI) in 1983. Every summer, it gathers 80 students from more than 50 countries to attend a six-week residential program focusing on STEM research subjects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has sent between four and six male and female gifted students who are selected by Mawhiba. Some of the students participated in the company’s College Preparation Program, and more than 10 of them joined top-tier universities such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford.
The mission of RSI is to nurture talented high school and college students for careers of excellence and leadership in science and to further international understanding among the future leaders of the world.
S-RSI is the sixth RSI program outside the United States. It will be conducted in coordination with CEE and the other partners, will follow the same standards and will aspire for the same results. It also will help the students hone their social and communication skills.
According to a memorandum of understanding signed by the four partners in July 2010, Saudi Aramco is committed to supporting the program for three years, starting with this summer’s institute.
As sponsor, Saudi Aramco meets one of its social responsibility goals and identifies young talent for its programs, the Kingdom’s leading universities and research institutions.
RSI is recognized internationally as a model of best practices in nurturing the minds of talented high school students in STEM. Organizers say the success of the first session and continuation of the program will help enhance the quality of general education in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Aramco is the winner of two international awards from the Web Marketing Association.
Saudi Aramco World
Photo by Saudi Aramco
Saudi Aramco World won the “Best E-Zine Website” category and the company’s main website, SaudiAramco.com, took an “Outstanding Website” award.
It was the second time for the Saudi Aramco World website and its founding design contractor, eSiteful Corp., to win the top award since the site was launched in 2004. The previous win was in 2008.
One of the judges wrote that the Saudi Aramco World site presented “engaging content,” adding that he especially liked the rotating featured-stories section. “It pulled me in and kept me engaged,” the judge said. “The site layout and graphics looked perfect.”
The online edition also garnered second-place awards in 2009 and 2010 and an “outstanding achievement in website development” in 2004. Overall, the Web edition has received 16 national and international awards.
Saudi Aramco World magazine, produced by the Public Affairs Department at Aramco Services Co., is circulated to interested readers throughout the world to help increase cross-cultural understanding. Dick Doughty, managing editor, reports that the online edition typically receives between 200,000 and 250,000 hits per month.
Saudi Aramco teamed with LBi London, a global marketing and technology agency, to produce SaudiAramco.com, which was launched May 29. Far more than a simple face-lift, the new site featured enhanced search capability, interactive multimedia, up-to-date content and a fresh look.
Its single-page construction was meant to imitate drilling and delving deeper through layers of data, just as drills bore down for hydrocarbons.
The annual WebAward competition, now in its 15th year, recognizes the best websites in a wide range of industries and draws thousands of entries from around the world.
Entries are judged on design, innovation, content, technology, interactivity, copywriting and ease of use.
The Web Marketing Association offers four levels of recognition: Best of Show for 2011 (overall best website), Best Website for Industry, Outstanding Website and Standard of Excellence.
Saudi Aramco (formerly Arabian American Oil Company) has been home to foreign workers and their families for over three quarters of a century. During this time, babies have been born, families raised, and a culture within a culture has developed inside the walled compounds.
Claudia Bates-Physioc takes a walk in the isolation of the desert.
Courtesy Arab News
Living in an enclosed setting precluded these families from integrating into Arabian society. At the same time, they were far removed from their homeland. Life went on and times changed back home, as they created a culture and lifestyle of their own.
The children who have grown up in and have now moved on from these compounds seem to share a special bond which stems from their unique childhood experiences.
Perhaps that’s why they have kept in touch over the years, forming the “Aramco Brats” group of over 400 closely knit members.
Their common thread comes from growing up isolated, yet exposed to a culture extremely different from that of their parents’. In today’s modern era, they keep in touch via online forums and arrange “Brat Reunions” to gather and reminisce.
Eight such “Brats” have graciously opened a window to their world and it is an honor and a privilege to take a glimpse at how their time in Arabia has shaped their lives.
Their experiences span five decades, from the 1950s to 1990s. Some were born in Saudi Arabia and others were transplanted at some point during their childhood.
During their time in Saudi Arabia, they were keenly aware that they were foreigners, but most didn’t feel like they were; Arabia was “home.” One fortunate “Brat,” Andie McAlister, had her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all living on the same compound. For others, the close friendships that grew inside their mini society served the various roles of extended family. They felt a sense of security and belonging that comes from growing up in a true small-town community atmosphere.
But it was the weekend outings to the nearby towns, visiting with the locals, and the Gulf and desert explorations that were the most thrilling part of the adventures of living here.
There are recollections of the generosity of the local people abound in their stories.
Claudia Bates-Physioc recalled, “The hospitality of the Saudi culture astonished me, even as a small child. I have a memory of admiring a trinket in the home of a family we were visiting, and the hosts insisted that I take it. On the way home, I was scolded by my parents and was told not to admire belongings in a Saudi home again; not because it was rude, but because I would be taking advantage of the extreme generous hospitality of the Saudi culture.” said Bates-Physioc
“I sat in Bedu tents in the deep desert of the Rub Al-Khali where a camel was slaughtered in our honor,”
Diana Lynn said, “Visits with my father to his Arab friends’ home are my fondest memories. How patient and understanding were these friends of my father’s to allow a little left handed bint sit in the majlis and eat with them. God bless them and my father.”
“My father received offers for me, a homely little girl. It was an honor to him, and he took it that way. I had a very favorable impression of Arabs at that time, and I still do.”
Wendy Nine fondly recalled, “Once I met a Bedouin girl in the desert. She gave me a silver ring which I still have.”
Hali Equality Cespedes-Chorin remembered, “Ramadan came in the summer when I was there…when dusk fell and people broke their fast, the camaraderie was amazing. Total strangers would invite you to sit with them and share their dates and water, even if you weren’t Muslim.”
Claudia Bates-Physioc explores exotic friendship with Bedouins.
Courtesy Arab News
The Aramco Brats also considered the differences in cultures.
Nine recalled, “I thought the Saudi culture was fascinating and ancient for the most part. The simplicity of living was so different from the way we lived.”
Jacobs said, “The Bedu always seemed very exotic and special to me.”
Although they were mindful of local customs and religion, they didn’t find it a barrier.
“It was very natural adopting the ‘When in Rome, act like a Roman’ attitude as there was an easy acceptance both ways on the differences between our cultures,” said Barbara Deines Martin.
“To me the Saudi people were part of my ‘town folk,’ always interested in me and my family when we were out of camp and very hospitable. I never felt any US and THEM; it was always a WE. We had a lot to learn from each other,” said Martin
As they went off to school, their parents retired, or they simply grew up, there is a common sense of loss and displacement at “returning” to a homeland that wasn’t really “home.”
Lynn described the overall feeling of displacement. “In our ‘Brat Chat’ discussions, we ‘Brats’ have frequently discussed feeling displaced in the world, much like the Palestinians.”
Bates-Physioc talks about her transition when she returned home.
“I was embarrassed to tell people where I ‘came from.’ I was an outsider in a culture I didn’t fully understand and it was uncomfortable for me. I think I even lied sometimes and told people I was from Indiana. I wanted to be normal, and I wanted to have rode the yellow school bus like every one else had…I don’t really belong to any culture…I want to be able to say, ‘I am from the world’ because truly, that would be the most accurate answer.”
Nine described how she felt going back to her home country, “It was alien and complex and I did not understand the rules or the ways of living. For a long time, I felt alone and a stranger in my own country.”
Martin discussed her everlasting belonging to Saudi Arabia, “I was truly a foreigner in my own country. It took me many years to really feel comfortable here in the USA. I do identify more with Arabia, even now, and am proud to be an Aramco Brat.”
Dawn Kolb described her shock at American culture, “We were in a grocery store and a woman (who was not covered as she was used to)…walked past…I turned to my dad and asked how she wasn’t ashamed to be…showing that much skin!”
McAlister recalled some of the practical difficulties to American living, “There were some things that would snag me up like money, television and just how big and busy everything was.”
Cespedes-Chorin and Jacobs both found it difficult to relate to their homeland peers, whose lack of knowledge about the world left them seemingly intolerant of differences.
Claudia Bates-Physioc wanders as a stranger among the locals.
Courtesy Arab News
Cespedes-Chorin said, “I realized how Americans have been deprived of information about what is going on in the rest of the world. This is particularly true of the Israel/Palestine situation.”
Jacobs echoed, “So many Americans have no clue about the outside world, and had a very different perspective.”
Their time in Saudi Arabia etched a lasting fondness on their hearts for the land they’d come to love, close family times, and neighbors who were more like family than friends.
McAlister shared the sense of security she felt growing up. “My fondest memory is …walking around Dhahran on warm nights with friends with the billions of stars shining down, hearing the sound of the AC plants in the background and feeling utterly safe.”
Kolb also spoke of the security she felt, “The camp was very safe. We didn’t have to worry about any major crimes.”
Martin reminisced about special family times. “My family and I were great campers and we did a lot of exploring…Invitations to sit in Bedouin tents and drink gahwa, while we were in the desert, is a high point…also trips on Dhows out into the Arabian Gulf to go scuba diving and camping on the islands off the coast of Jubail were positively thrilling.”
Nine spoke of her timeless love for Saudi Arabia. “There are many precious memories and times that I had there and I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity. I now love this country much more for its secret culture and its fascinating history.”
Bates-Physioc painted the image she holds in her heart. “My most spectacular memories, however, were the endless hours lying on my back on silky sand dunes and gazing at the magical Saudi sky. The sky was blacker than the ace of spades and the stars were a trillion brilliant diamonds that would shoot across the sky! Those nights sleeping with the Saudi sky were the closest I’ve ever come to heaven and will forever be burned in my memory.”
What’s more, their final exits brought sadness and longing for a special place and life once lived.
Kolb shared the sense of lament she felt growing up. “Knowing that someday, we would have to say good-bye to our friends.”
Bates-Physioc talked about not raising her own family in Arabia, “I envy the families I know who made the decision to return to Saudi Arabia because I know the fullness of that experience.”
Lynn regreted not going back, “Truly, I felt very sorry I had not applied for a job with Aramco when I was a newly graduated registered nurse.”
Perhaps Jacobs came the closest to continuing her Arabian childhood. “When I went to university, I studied Contemporary Arab Studies, International Politics and Arabic, because I wanted to have a more academic understanding of Saudi Arabia and the Arab World. Then, I lived in Egypt for a while to study and to work (I would have gone to Saudi Arabia, but visas were not possible for a young woman visitor on her own then). While I was there, I met my husband, who is Egyptian, and a Muslim.”
Andie McAlister, Alkhobar, “back in the day…”
Courtesy Arab News
It’s very clear they all feel they had a very special opportunity to experience growing up in Saudi Arabia and they have become much more open-minded and appreciative of diversity because of it.
Nine said, “I am very open to all cultures, very curious to know more. I do not think the American way is the only way.”
Martin explained, “Living in Arabia has given me the opportunity to really see another culture from the inside and made me less judgmental about people who are clearly different than me. I feel more open to ways of thinking that are different than mine.”
Kolb agreed. “I feel like I have a better understanding of people of different cultures and religions. I am understanding and tolerant of people of different backgrounds.”
Truly unique in the world and bonded by experience, the “Aramco Brats” are forever intertwined by the childhood memories and special culture they share.
Martin concluded, “Aramco Brats are a very unique group of Americans. Although we are clearly Americans, we have an incredible fondness in our hearts for the Kingdom and its people. We all call Saudi Arabia ‘Home.’”
Hali Equality Cespedes-Chorin concurred. “I feel a bond with people who grew up as ‘Aramco Brats.’…I think we share an appreciation of Arabic culture and concern for Saudi Arabia because of our experiences. We had our own culture in Aramco, being half in one world and half in the other.”
Originally published in Arab News on July 27, 2011.
RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced Sunday that Saudi women would be allowed to stand and vote in municipal elections and also become members of the Shoura Council.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah addresses the Shoura Council on Sunday.(SPA)
King Abdullah was making his inaugural speech at the third year of the Shoura Council’s fifth session.
On arrival at the council headquarters, the king was received by acting Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam and Shoura Council President Abdullah Al-Asheikh.
Grand Mufti of the Kingdom Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, President of the Supreme Judiciary Council Saleh bin Homaid and a number of religious scholars and sheikhs were also present to greet the monarch.
“All people know the role of women in the annals of Islam and their position cannot be marginalized. There were great women who contributed a great deal toward the progress of the religion of Islam from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh),” said King Abdullah.
“Since we reject any marginalization of women in Saudi society in every domain, in accordance with Shariah (Islamic) guidelines and following consultations with many of our scholars, especially those in the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars, we have decided the following:
“First, women will be allowed to participate in the Shoura Council as members from the next session onwards.
“Secondly, as of the next session, women will have the right to nominate themselves for membership of municipal councils and also have the right to participate in the electoral process.”
The king greeted members of the council and said the meeting coincides with the Kingdom’s National Day, the day when the late King Abdul Aziz founded the country.
“The struggle of the father of the nation, the late King Abdul Aziz, and of your grandfathers (mercy be upon their souls), has resulted in the unity of hearts, land, and one destiny. Today, this destiny imposes on us to preserve this legacy, and not stop there but to develop it further in line with Islamic and moral values,” he said.
“Yes, it is a responsibility toward our religion and the interest of our country and its citizens that we should not withdraw from our hurdles, but we should forge ahead by strengthening our determination with patience and hard work and with dependence on Allah.”
Balanced modernization in line with Islamic values, which preserve rights, is an important requirement in an era with no place for the weak and people with indecisiveness, he added.
“My brothers and sisters, you have your own rights according to Islamic law to achieve your goals with pride and dignity. It is our right to seek your opinion and advice according to Shariah guidelines and the fundamentals of religion, and those who stay away from these guidelines are arrogant people and they have to bear responsibility for their actions.”
Outlining the Kingdom’s foreign policy, the king said the priority is to demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s solidarity with Muslim countries.
“When the Muslim world is an active and effective partner in the international political and economic arena, the effect of its participation and interactivity will definitely run in favor of our main cause, which is Palestine, which we can support and canvass support for on international platforms, especially now with its request for full membership in the UN,” he said.
“We will mobilize international support to help Palestinians establish an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem, and to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”
He said the Kingdom has been instrumental in offering humanitarian assistance to needy people in the world, adding that the country’s recent initiative to alleviate the sufferings of distressed people in Somalia and Pakistan was well appreciated by the global community.
“Our active role in the G20 meetings held in Canada and South Korea demonstrates the Kingdom’s involvement in international affairs,” he added.
“While supporting peace and security both in the Middle East and other parts of the world, we want to uphold everyone’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under the supervision and control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
He added that the Kingdom also supports various initiatives to make the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction as stipulated in UN resolutions.
To meet the demand for energy to ensure global growth and prosperity, he said the Kingdom has established the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy to supplement the country’s oil and gas resources.
He recalled that the Kingdom’s expenditure reached SR580 billion under the 1432/1433 budget, an increase of 7 percent from last year. The budget allocated SR150 billion for general education and training manpower, an 8 percent increase on last year.
SR68.7 billion was allocated for health care and social development (a 12 percent increase on last year), SR24.5 billion for municipal and rural services (13 percent), and SR 25.2 billion for transportation and communication (5 percent).
Reacting to the king’s speech, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said it was a welcome sign that women were going to be given an opportunity in decision making and participating in government’s affairs. The minister pointed out that since the dawn of Islam, women have worked with men and contributed a great deal to various developments.
Originally published in Arab News on September 25, 2011.