Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars: Kasem Alhaeik

In the Reporter's ongoing series of Q&As, members of the inaugural cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars reflect upon a ground-breaking year
“The experience of the scholarship program has far exceeded my expectations,” says Kasem Alhaeik. “I did not really understand the extent to which the program was going to allow me to build new friendships and connections that will allow me to grow and learn as much as I did in the past year.”

This past fall, the first cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars arrived at McGill to begin their fully funded master’s or professional degrees.

 Launched in February 2019, by a landmark $200-million gift from John and Marcy McCall MacBain, the McCall MacBain Scholarship provides mentorship, coaching, and a leadership curriculum, while covering tuition and fees, as well as providing a living stipend of $2,000 per month.

Each member of that first cohort was chosen based on their character, community engagement, leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, academic strength, and intellectual curiosity. They are a diverse group, representing a wide range of interests and experience, ambitions and motivations.

With the 2021-2022 academic year drawing to a close, we caught up with members of that trail-blazing cohort of Scholars and asked them to reflect upon their ground-breaking experience.

As part of our Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars series, we spoke with Kasem Alhaeik, who is working towards a Master of Arts in Political Science at McGill.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Syria, and I was raised between Syria and Montreal.

What is your field of interest and when did you start developing your interest in it?

I am pursuing an MA in Political Science with a focus on Development Studies. My interest in that field is inspired by my upbringing in Syria, where I had the chance to see the work of international NGOs leading all kinds of development initiatives in my city.

When I decided to pursue a BSc in International Studies at Université de Montréal, I had the opportunity to take part in an international solidarity project in Togo. This experience confirmed my desire to pursue a career in the domain of development aid to contribute to improving aid initiatives and most importantly the lives of the people who live in countries benefiting from them.

What was your reaction when you found out you had been selected as a McCall MacBain Scholar?

I simply was not able to believe that I was selected. When I applied, I had in mind the $5,000 McCall MacBain Regional Awards, and it did not even occur to me that I will go as far in the process.

So far, what has been your favourite part of being a McCall MacBain Scholar?

My favourite part of becoming a McCall MacBain Scholar is without any doubt the people I had the chance to meet and the connections I had the chance to build. Becoming a McCall MacBain Scholar gave me the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with the other 19 scholars that I now have the chance to call friends. Interacting with and learning from these amazing human beings is undoubtedly the best of my past year.

Moreover, the connections we have the chance to build with mentors and advisors are also an immense privilege that allowed me to learn and grow so much in the past few months.

How does the diversity of the McCall MacBain Scholars add to your experience as a graduate student at McGill?

The scholars are an extremely diverse group that is interested in a wide variety of topics and social issues. It allows us to interact on a weekly basis with students from different disciplines and with completely different backgrounds. In our regular leadership sessions or simply in our conversations, this diversity creates an extremely interesting setting to learn from other perspectives.

What is the leadership development program like? What was your favourite session or learning moment?

The leadership development programs are sessions throughout the semester that are extremely diverse in both subject and participating leaders. We had the chance to work on cases inspired by the experiences of businesspeople, former ministers, lawyers, community advocates, etc. The sessions allowed us to work on cases inspired by the lives and discuss decision-making in positions of leadership.

My favourite learning moment of each session is when we have the chance to hear directly the experience of the leader who inspired the week’s session.

Who is your mentor and what are they like? What are you hoping to get out of the mentoring relationship and other connections made through the scholarship program?

My mentor is Nahlah Ayed, a journalist that was a foreign correspondent in the Middle East and is currently the host of the documentary program Ideas on CBC Radio One.

Interacting with my mentor on a regular basis has been truly an immense privilege. Nahlah is a truly invested mentor who is always caring and interested in discussing and sharing her experiences with me.

From my relationship with my mentor, as well as from the other connections made through the scholarship, I am looking to learn from the experiences of these leaders to improve my understanding of the world and to be more prepared to face different challenges now and in the future.

Can you tell us about the professional coaching you receive?

The professional coaching program takes the form of monthly sessions where I have the chance to work with my coach on whatever issue or obstacle that I am facing. It is really a moment during which I work on myself and develop tools and techniques to make better decisions, find a better balance, and improve my methods of work.

Overall, how would you describe your experience in the scholarship program so far?

The experience of the scholarship program has far exceeded my expectations. I did not really understand the extent to which the program was going to allow me to build new friendships and connections that will allow me to grow and learn as much as I did in the past year.

What kinds of people do you think should apply for this program? What would you say to those prospective applicants?

I think there is no one specific kind of person who should apply for this program. This program is really for any prospective master’s student at McGill who is eager to learn in any field and that is aiming to continue to contribute in any way to their communities.

A year ago, I would have never guessed that I would be a McCall MacBain Scholar so I would simply encourage all prospective applicants to believe in themselves and apply.

What are your future plans?

This summer I will have the chance to pursue an internship at the OECD working in Development Co-operation to hopefully contribute in a very modest way to improving aid programs targeted at developing countries. After my MA, I would like to pursue my professional path in the field of development to contribute to building better aid initiatives that have a positive impact on people in the Global South.