This UT Alumna Is on Her Way to Advance Education in Egypt
- Jan 30, 2019
Moving to a new country for the first time can leave international students feeling out of place. But after four years at UT, alumna Diana Ayoub learned to “make the most out of being lost.”
Originally from Egypt, Ayoub was a recipient of the African Leadership Bridge Scholarship Program which offers financial support to students from Africa for their studies at U.S. colleges such as UT. The program aims to prepare students with the knowledge and skills to create sustainable change in the continent.
Ayoub came to Austin in 2014 and graduated in Spring 2018 with an economics and finance degree. During her time at UT, Ayoub was actively involved in several leadership roles representing international students to university leaders. She founded the Texas International Students Association and chaired the International Students Agency in the Senate of College Councils.
She was also passionate about welcoming international students and being a mentor for them. Her time at UT not only expanded her network with long-lasting friendships but also made her confident of her chosen career path.
Soon before she graduated, she shared with us her experiences as an international student at UT and what she has in store for her future.
What is your hometown?
I am from Qena, Egypt.
Why did you choose your majors?
When I came to UT, I was actually an economics major. Mostly because I was interested in policy making and education. I was interested in the side of education that had to do with policy and research rather than teaching – which I have so much respect to but I knew that my strength was in research and policymaking. I thought that economics could give me that step forward in education policy.
Then I was always very interested in numbers and I have always been passionate about figuring out and solving problems. That is why I applied to the McCombs School of Business in the second year and why I decided to major in Finance.
Tell me about the African Leadership Bridge Scholarship Program.
The African Leadership Bridge Program was started by an African student and one of the Texas Exes, John Kidenda and Rick Reeder. Rick Reeder was a mentor for John Kidenda when he was in McCombs School of Business. And John Kidenda struggled to pay for his tuition for his last year after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. So, they decided to start the African Leadership Bridge to sponsor African students to come here to UT, and hopefully give them the education they need to go back to the continent and create and impact.
Currently, we have six scholars and three of them are already back in the continent. Three of us are here and two of us are graduating this semester. All of us will have graduated by next year. Then we have two scholars in the African continent who were sponsored for their education in the African continent.
How has the program been helpful to you?
The African Leadership Bridge Scholarship Program has been very supportive since the beginning. Yesterday, I was actually looking at pictures of them picking me up from the airport and singing “Welcome.” This Sunday, they are teaching me how to drive. They have been very supportive in all aspects of my life. They have mentored me professionally, they have helped me calculate my grades and my GPA, they have been there for me since the beginning until now.
They supported me not only financially but surrounded me with a really caring family that cares about you while you are here in Austin. When I was moving to Washington D.C. they helped me find a home in D.C. and connected me to everyone who could mentor me in D.C. They really cared for my major, my career and my health while here in Austin. They really helped me from the beginning until now.
What other activities does the program offer to students?
We’ve been having activities like welcome dinners. They welcomed my family when they came to visit UT. I've also been given welcome dinners whenever I came here. We have an annual fundraising event, which the students are usually very involved in. We have monthly calls with the rest of the scholars and the rest of the board members so that they can know what is happening. So there has been a number of activities that we have been doing. Last week, we had a get-together dinner because one of our scholars arrived back in the U.S. We were talking about the strategy of the organization, how to move forward, and we were just catching up on what has happened in our lives.
What is the most valuable lesson UT has taught you?
I would say the most valuable lesson that UT has taught me is to take advantage of every opportunity that has been given to me and to make the most out of it. One of my favorite things about UT is the opportunity to do everything that you are interested in. For a person like me who likes doing all kinds of things, I think this is something that I learned in UT. I learned to take advantage of the research opportunities, the study abroad opportunities, academic programs and the wonderful professors that we have here. So, there is plenty of opportunities. If there is something I learned here, it is to take advantage of all of it, even if I don’t believe in myself, even if I don't think I can get this opportunity. I learned to just do my best, just make the most out of the opportunities that I have.
You said you were in D.C., can you tell me about the program you participated in?
It was part of a program called the Archer Fellowship Program where they bring students from UT and with UT professors to go and intern, live and study in Washington D.C. We worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., we had classes right after. I had a wonderful experience in D.C. last semester.
What has been your favorite part of being a Longhorn?
I would say my favorite part of being a Longhorn is being part of a bigger thing. Our motto, which is very cheesy, “What starts here changes the world,” leads to everything that we do here at UT – just being surrounded by a Longhorn network that is motivated by the same thing.
When I went to D.C. I had a Texas Exes mentor that tried to help me throughout the way. It’s great to just know that there are Longhorns around the world who are trying to help and just navigate this vision. I am graduating but I don’t just get a degree – I am part of the University.
How has your time at UT contributed to your personal and professional development?
I would say freshman year Diana is very different from senior year Diana. I would say mostly, I have rediscovered my passion. When I came from Egypt I was very passionate about coming to UT. Throughout the four years, you become more realistic about what you want. At the same time, you actually give yourself the tools you need to do what you want after graduation. I became more aware of my vision, more aware of what the steps are that I want to take to achieve what I want in life. Being surrounded by people who are trying to help me get to what I want is what helped me in my professional and academic experience.
I can say now that I can graduate from the University knowing not only that I have the tools the University gave me academically, but I also have the tools the whole network and the whole community gave me professionally to do what I am passionate about.
What have you learned from your professors and peers?
I learned to seek help whenever I need it and to offer help as much as I can. I've had a wonderful accounting professor, Donna Johnston-Blair, that I would always go to whenever I need help, and she would always be there for me. She was the one who helped me with mock interviews for my job. She was the one who wrote my recommendation letters before I went to Washington D.C. So she has been the one that has been there for me the whole time. Being able to have this relationship with professors have allowed me to see where they came from, how they started off in college, and how they ended up where they are.
One of my favorite things is definitely to work with world experts who are still very down to earth and are willing to mentor you and help you throughout the way. Because of the mentorship that I got from my professors and my friends here, I always try my best to pay it forward and help other students as much as I can. I think to be able to get this mentorship helped me be very committed to helping everyone else.
Has UT met your educational expectations?
Yes. They exceeded it. I did not know what to expect when coming to college. I just knew that I wanted to do everything that I was interested in. I came to UT as a person interested in policymaking and entrepreneurship. I was also interested in being surrounded by a community who respects and is curious about my culture. I would say that UT definitely exceeded these expectations. There are just plenty of opportunities that I never thought I would have. For example, I never thought I would have managed to go to Washington D.C. unless I came to UT to learn from experts at UT. So, these opportunities were very unique, and I would not have gotten them elsewhere.
Describe a memorable moment of your undergraduate career.
I can say that I am one of those cheesy people who just love singing “The Eyes of Texas,” a lot. And one of my favorite moments in college is going to the football games and being able to be in the University and sing “The Eyes of Texas.” It is just a constant reminder of how proud I am to be here. I remember the first thing I saw when I came back from D.C. was the tower from the Austin skyline. I put my horns up and I was singing “The Eyes of Texas.” It is one of my favorite things, regardless of whether I am a freshman or a senior.
How has Texas Global helped you in your undergraduate years?
I've been in relationship with Texas Global since my freshman year. I remember my first week here on campus, I met my sponsored students' advisor, Tina. She helped me to complete all the documents that I needed. I remember her helping me how to navigate Austin, how to get around and also during international students' orientation. Then after freshman year, I would always have a meeting maybe once a semester with my advisor to talk about what is happening and what problems I am having.
Before I went to D.C., I was always in contact with them about what is happening as I was applying for jobs, so that I can make sure I did all these things I have to do as an international student. Even Dr. Teri Albrecht, the interim executive director, has been a huge mentor for me and has been with me throughout the whole way. When we were working on initiatives for international students and their experiences on campus, they have been pretty responsive. We would talk to them about what we need and what we wanted to see in the University and Texas Global. They are always willing to support us to make sure that everyone feels welcomed whenever they are coming back to campus. Texas Global has been a big part of my college experience.
What have you enjoyed the most about living in Austin?
One of my favorite things about living in Austin is being in a city that is for everyone. Whether you are a person who loves music and likes going to see live music every day, or you are a person who is interested in policymaking and wants to intern at the Capitol, or someone who wants to start their business and enjoy the startup culture. I would say I've enjoyed the opportunity to do all kinds of things every weekend and just having the chance to be involved with the greater Austin community, not only just for fun but professionally and academically.
For one of my classes, we had to go out and discover different non-profit organizations in Austin and see how they use arts to improve the community. I knew I wanted to go to a university where I could also get hands-on experience in the community, a university that exists not only inside the classroom. I think Austin is one of the best places to do that. I absolutely love Austin. It is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. Being in Austin has played a huge part in being in UT.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I will be moving to Dallas to work for Deloitte as a tax consultant. Hopefully, I will be there for a couple of years and I will pursue a graduate degree after that.
Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
I see myself back in Egypt, hopefully, or back on the African continent. I would like to be working in education policy or economic policy after getting, my graduate degree. I would like to work in the education department in Egypt, to improve the education so I can get an education similar to what I got here in the US.
"There is really a lot to make the most out of UT. It’s normal to be lost, so be that person who makes the most out of being lost."
What advice would you give to first-year international students?
There is really a lot to make the most out of UT. It’s normal to be lost, so be that person who makes the most out of being lost.
Have this ability to ask for help when you need it. Find your support system here at UT. Join student organizations or intramural sports. Find your community that makes you comfortable here at UT.
It is never too late to do anything. I got involved in research in my senior year, and people can do all kinds of things until the end of their time at UT. It is never too late to do anything. Whether you think you can do it or not, just seek help and take advantage of every opportunity that you have. Whether it’s by joining a student organization – we have 1300 student organizations so you can join plenty – there are lots of opportunities here at UT, so take advantage of it.