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MENAR Fellowship Puts May Degree Candidate in Jordanian Refugee Camp

Published April 18, 2017 in News

By: Matt Kelly | University Communications

A University of Virginia fourth-year student will assist refugees in Jordan, thanks to the Middle East and North Africa Regional Fellowship Program.

Lilly Crown of Deltaville, a fourth-year distinguished major in Middle Eastern languages and literatures who anticipates graduating in May, has been named a MENAR Fellow.

“The MENAR Program matches fellows with partner organizations in the region,” Crown said. “The organization that selected me is called the Collateral Repair Project, a grassroots organization providing food assistance and emergency relief to recently resettled Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan, and I will be serving as the programs and administrative manager.”

During the past four years at UVA, Crown has studied the Middle East across 10 academic disciplines – anthropology, politics, education, literature, gender studies, sociology, history, religious studies, language and law. 

“I have supplemented this knowledge with classes about policy, education, non-governmental organization management, human rights activism and conflict resolution,” Crown said. “My life’s aspirations are a product of this academic background.”

To these academic accomplishments, she has added the experience of working at the Hopes-Sitti Women’s Center in the Gaza Refugee Camp in Jerash, Jordan, a country she has grown to love.

“My biggest accomplishment during that time was designing and launching Banaat Connect, an online language-exchange program between women in the camp learning English and American university women learning Arabic,” Crown said. “I learned there that I work at my best when seeking to mend the part of the world that is within my reach, working on the ground to form relationships and getting engaged at the project and organizational level.”

She said the MENAR Fellowship will allow her to return to Jordan, giving her valuable experience and information that will help her formulate her future graduate studies and work experience that will align her abilities with current humanitarian issues.

“After working for different types of institutions that are serving similar problems and crises, I plan to return to school to get a Master of Science in international development and humanitarian aid or a Master of Education in international education policy,” she said “I hope to continue working abroad for inter-governmental or non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian relief to at-risk populations.”

Rachel Wahl, an assistant professor in the Program in Social Foundations in the Department of Leadership, Foundations and Policy at UVA’s Curry School of Education, thinks Crown already shows promise as a researcher.

“Lilly has been incredibly motivated from the beginning,” Wahl said. “She designed her own study to understand the relationship between women’s agency and information and communication technology in Jordan. She then secured funding and carried out the study on her own in challenging circumstances. She returned to UVA, analyzed her data and has just finished the first draft of her thesis. She has accomplished more in a semester than many graduate students are able to do.”

While a student at UVA, Crown has been president of the Arabic Conversation Club, vice chair of the Cultural Programming Board and founder of the Charlottesville Alliance for Refugees. She has also been a knitting instructor at Knit for Hope, a group that knits clothing items for refugees living in camps in Northern Europe.

She received the Dee Family Global Scholarship, a Global Internship Grant, the Gilbert J. Sullivan Z-Society Scholarship, an International Residential College Summer Travel and Learn Scholarship and a SALAM Scholarship through the Royal Sultanate of Oman, where she studied for seven weeks.

She has been a volunteer tutor for immigrants and refugees and a teaching assistant in graduate-level English as a Second Language classrooms. She also worked as a research assistant for a Curry School Program in Social Foundations project that looks at the learning that occurs in dialogue, and for a Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics project that looked at violence escalation in the Syrian civil war.

She has interned for “Kerning Cultures” podcasts, helping produce episodes that tell stories about culture, history, science and entrepreneurship in the Middle East. 

“I’m honored and excited to be one of this year’s fellows,” Crown said. “The work I do will be humbling and it will be the perfect start to a career in public service.”

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