A Year in

Northwestern Qatar 2019-20 Annual Report


The 2019-20 academic year was remarkable in every respect. From changes at the administrative level to adjustments within a globally shifting landscape of education, Northwestern Qatar—like many of its peers—had some unique challenges. Throughout it all, however, our faculty and students continued to produce research, deliver academic excellence, and uphold the traditions that Northwestern is known for.

Welcoming the New Leadership

The announcement of Marwan M. Kraidy as the school’s new dean and CEO was the highlight of the year. Kraidy, an authority on Arab media and a global communication scholar, joined Northwestern Qatar from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication and served as associate dean for administration, professor of global communication, and the Anthony Shadid Chair in Global Media, Politics and Culture.

Kraidy’s research centers around the relationship between culture and geopolitics, theories of identity and modernity, and global media systems and industries. He is also an expert on the Middle East and fluent in Arabic. He has published 13 books and edited volumes, authored 130 essays and chapters, and was the recipient of more than 50 awards for teaching and scholarship.

His latest project, which received a grant from the prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program, is a book that will explore the rise of the Islamic State through the implementation of "war machine" communication and digital media tactics that spread fear, hostility, and global insecurity.

Kraidy earned his bachelor’s degree in communication arts from Notre-Dame University in Louaizé, Lebanon, and his Lebanese baccalaureate in humanities at Saint Joseph College in Antoura, Lebanon. He holds a Ph.D. in mass communication from Ohio University, where he also earned his master’s degree.

Kraidy succeeds Craig LaMay, who served as acting dean after Everette E. Dennis announced he would step down as Northwestern Qatar’s dean in December 2019.

"The future of education is global, interdisciplinary, and digital. With its formidable faculty, talented staff, and bright students, Northwestern Qatar is uniquely positioned to shape that future. I look forward to leading this special community to new heights and deepening our impact on Northwestern and the world."

Marwan M. Kraidy
Dean and CEO

Weathering the Pandemic

Life on campus after spring break welcomed profound changes at every level of operation as Northwestern Qatar joined a global effort to respond to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Like many universities around the world, Northwestern Qatar followed directions from local and international authorities in suspending in-class instruction, ushering in a new era of remote teaching and learning for faculty, staff, and students.

For staff, the change meant working around the clock to ensure a quick and effective transition to online classes. “We used resources that the teams in Evanston and other universities around the world had been developing in preparation of a potential disruption, and shared specific practices with faculty to help them get on board smoothly,” said Shakir Hussain, learning engineer at Northwestern Qatar.

The situation on the ground also revealed that the challenge was more than technical, with many students highlighting the impact of distance on their engagement and attention span. Ibrahim Abusharif, associate professor in the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program, pointed out that “the main challenge is not being able to be physically in a classroom,” where it is easier to gauge students’ needs and respond accordingly.

Despite these hurdles, faculty members extracted valuable lessons from this experience that can later be used to support a blended learning approach in the classroom. “A major crisis has a way of reminding us of the importance of humility and patience (in times of ease and adversity) because they foster spiritual growth and intellectual capacity,” Abusharif said.

Inspiring a Generation of Storytellers

The first formal occasion of the year, Northwestern Qatar’s Convocation, welcomed the Class of 2023, effectively marking the beginning of the 2019–20 academic year. Charles Whitaker, dean and professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, delivered the keynote address at the welcoming ceremony.

The first-ever Medill alumnus to serve as dean, having received both his bachelor's and master’s degrees from the school, Whitaker encouraged the new students to ponder the significance of the narrative they’re beginning to write as incoming first-year students.

Whitaker, who has served on the faculty at Medill since 1993, returning to the University after a successful career as a journalist and news executive, concluded his speech by telling the Class of 2023 that “learning is a lifelong journey that doesn’t stop at graduation” and that a good mentor, much like a good editor, “can help shape the arc of your personal narrative, and stimulate your thinking when you’re staring at what seems like the blank page of your life.”

“A narrative is the tie that binds us. Whether you are in communication or journalism, I think we’re all bound by our compulsion to be storytellers—in feature films, in documentary, in news reports, in long form investigative pieces. Storytelling is our passion, and it’s a powerful tool to show the breadth and depth of our humanity.”

Charles Whitaker
Dean and Professor, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, Northwestern University

Empowering Creative Minds

The Creative Media Festival, which takes place annually at Northwestern Qatar, is a 48-hour marathon where students spend a weekend producing multimedia projects—using film, photography, creative writing, and live performance, among other mediums—with the help of professional guidance.

The festival is produced by a team of creative mentors comprised of two theater artists from Northwestern alumni, Tom Casserly and George Bajalia, and singer/actress Caitlin Cassidy. This year, the student-run initiative saw Rahma El-Deeb as executive producer, Maha Essid as artistic director, and Wijdan Al Khateeb as artistic producer.

More than 50 students participated in the festival, resulting in nine projects—all focused on the central theme “Rising Up/Uprising”—that addressed topics ranging from the political uprisings in the Middle East to the identity struggles of multiracial people and the implications of stereotyping.

“The Creative Media Festival encourages and enables students to collaborate in creating media experiences that are imaginative, bold, and courageous in the interpretation of our featured theme,” said Gregory Ferrell Lowe, professor and director of the Communication Program at Northwestern Qatar.

“It takes an enormous amount of planning and effort to put together such a complex collection of media creations in such a short amount of time. This year’s results were impressive for the artistic value the students created, and for the insightful treatments they produced about complicated issues.”

Adapting to Changing Times

A stage play—The Cherry Orchard—originally designed as a live production in Northwestern Qatar’s Black Box Theater, was produced online following the move to remote teaching, emphasizing the role and urgency of live theater among actors and directors.

The production, which captures the spirit of an artistic home swept by the currents of technological advancement, is a 21st-century adaptation of Anton Chekov’s 1904 play where a Russian aristocratic family is on the brink of losing their estate to powerful historic forces at the turn of the 20th century.

“Unexpectedly, the play really became a reality,” said play director Ann Woodworth, associate professor at Northwestern Qatar. “When I think about this experience, it amazes me because I couldn’t have done the project without the technology, so the irony of that is not lost on me."

With more than 45 years of experience in the industry, Woodworth is no stranger to “old worlds giving way to new worlds,” having lived through radical disruptions in theater caused by expansions in film and television. “This experience confirmed my belief that there’s something so fundamentally necessary in being human—of being together, and experiencing things together,” she said.

Woodworth, who concluded her Northwestern journey this year, transformed the project into a virtual show, The Cherry Orchard–QUARANTINED, along with the 22 student actors from her performance-based course, “Creative Collaboration,” which she launched shortly after joining Northwestern Qatar from Northwestern in Evanston in 2009.

View the online production of The Cherry Orchard–QUARANTINED.


The school this year welcomed a number of faculty who teach digital communications as it broadened its curriculum to address the emergence of new technology in today’s media ecosystem.

Doing Digital: The Knowledge Component

A panel discussion in late October, “Doing Digital: The Knowledge Component,” addressed how this change is taking place. Moderated by Banu Akdenizli, associate professor, participants included three new faculty members—Eddy Borges-Rey, S. Venus Jin, and Spencer Striker—who drew on their work and research experience to explore the implications of digitization on media creation and consumption. Read a summary of the panel discussion here.

“Nowadays, we must take seriously and become literate in forms of communication that go beyond the formal modalities of speech and text,” said Striker, associate professor, who specializes in digital media design. “Modalities such as user experience design, sound design, and visual effects should be studied formally to keep pace with the vanguard of communication technologies,” he added.

The imperative to align pedagogical training with the dynamic shifts of the market has been a defining feature of education at Northwestern Qatar from the beginning. This year, students enjoyed courses on digital innovation, mobile journalism, consumer marketing, animation, interactive media, and game design, among a myriad of cutting-edge courses uniquely designed to prepare them for the industry’s digital future.

Borges-Rey, associate professor, whose area of expertise is digital journalism and emerging media, also teaches an advanced course on mobile journalism, where students produce content using mobile phones and other equipment. Borges-Rey’s book on “Data Journalism in the Global South” was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan.

As one of the most advanced media schools in the world—with a host of digital assets, the world’s most advanced technology in broadcast and production, and an integrative understanding of the digital media ecosystem—Northwestern Qatar is well-placed to complement student efforts in capitalizing on the cutting-edge features of their new building and challenge themselves to become more critical and reflective in their adaptation to this environment.

“To this end, we have an optimal blending of digital media studies, digital journalism, and digital media design,” said Jin, who believes this approach to education further elevates Northwestern Qatar’s efforts to produce well-rounded students. “We are bringing multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives—sociology, psychology, marketing, branding, interactive media design, data science, and more—to the Northwestern Qatar community,” she said.

"We are teaching, for example, a freshmen course called ‘Journalism in the Digital World.’ For the final project, students were able to create a whole website from scratch. They also had the means and knowhow to produce an interactive story, a podcast, an Instagram story, a Vox pop, and so many other interesting things."

Eddy Borges-Rey
Associate Professor


This year, Northwestern Qatar continued to build on its research eminence, celebrating more than a dozen publications, hosting a panel of student researchers, successfully applying for three research grants, and participating in a few prestigious international fellowships.

Grants Awarded

Northwestern Qatar researchers submitted 28 grant and fellowship applications in the 2019-20 academic year. As shown in the graphs below, this is twice the number as the year before and a more than five-fold increase since the establishment of the Research Office in 2013.

These submissions included $2.72 million in grant proposals to Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) alone, along with individual fellowship applications to various foundations totaling almost $70,000.

The year opened with a celebration of seven authored and four edited books, as well as two monographs, that were produced by Northwestern Qatar faculty and staff members in the previous academic year. During a panel discussion, the authors and editors presented and discussed their work, which covered an array of topics. Click here for an overview of the event.

For the first time in its history, Northwestern Qatar hosted an international conference on its grounds when it gathered global academics and media professionals in October for the 2019 meeting of the International Media Management Academic Association.

Over three days and 40 sessions, conferees from 15 countries met to discuss media management education, business models, TV binge-watching, data journalism, and other industry-wide developments. Conference topics and speakers can be found here.

This year’s Qatar Media Industries Forum, “Media on the Rise in Qatar: 2020 Trends and Beyond,” explored the implications of new media and technologies, the influence of 5G on day-to-day communication, and the challenges of combating disinformation and fake news. Read a summary of the forum.

Northwestern Qatar’s signature research project, an annual survey of media use in the Middle East and North Africa region, released its penultimate publication at the end of the Fall semester. Fieldwork for the ninth and final annual iteration of this study was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will likely resume in early 2021.

The report, piloted in 2013 and published each year since, has been part of Northwestern Qatar’s efforts in building a rigorous knowledge base and robust, homegrown research framework. View and download the eighth penultimate edition here.

Research from the school also contributes to Qatar Foundation’s scholastic efforts through the Qatar Faculty Forum, an occasional lecture series that convenes faculty from neighboring world-class universities at Education City. Read about two QFF presentations by Northwestern Qatar faculty.

Northwestern Qatar’s Student Research Week, organized by the research office, highlights student research activities on campus and supports students in exploring funding opportunities and refining grant proposals.

This academic year was the most successful for students so far, who received six Conference Travel Grants, five Summer Undergraduate Research Grants, four Undergraduate Language Grants, and two Academic Year Undergraduate Research Grants.

A panel discussion during the Week featured presentations by students about some of the completed and ongoing projects supported by these grants. Read about what students presented on.

Chart 1 Chart 2 Chart 3

Northwestern Qatar Research Productivity By Year

  • Books, Monographs, and Edited Volumes
  • Conference Papers
  • Journal Articles
  • Book Chapters

Student Life

The undergraduate experience at Northwestern Qatar, especially outside the classroom, resembled that of any other year. As customary for new students, life began with orientation, where several long-time Northwestern traditions are commemorated and observed, concluding with a convocation ceremony.


In the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program, junior students spend 10 weeks working with established journalists and media professionals at renowned multinational organizations as part of a Medill tradition. Their counterparts in the Communication Program participate in the Evanston Exchange Program by traveling to Evanston to spend a semester on Northwestern’s home campus. Read about how COVID-19 impacted students in the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program and the Evanston Exchange Program.

Though 7,000 miles apart, Northwestern undergraduate students in Evanston from the School of Communication, the Medill School, and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences also have the opportunity to spend a semester at Northwestern Qatar thanks to the Semester in Qatar intercampus program. Read about the experiences of Miguel Aponte, Leslie Bonilla, Martin Herrmann, and Eliza Posner—four exchange students from the home campus.

International opportunities at Northwestern Qatar also exist for professional development in the areas of personal and academic interest to students. During the Fall semester, two Northwestern Qatar students, Maryam Al-Badr and Saad Ejaz, received the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism to pursue their passion for reporting sensitive subjects like mental health. Read about Ejaz and Al-Badr’s visit to the U.S. as part of the fellowship program.

As Northwestern Qatar moved its academic courses online, students began parallel initiatives at safeguarding access to the resources that make Northwestern Qatar an inclusive and thought-provoking place for students.

In the spirit of solidarity, students from all classes and majors joined student club leaders in creating a platform where student needs are addressed and their interests engaged through interactive virtual activities spanning dance challenges, cooking tutorials, and online game contests.

One example of a student club engaging its members during the pandemic is the Afrowimbo Dance Group, which made a video re-creating the Yope dance. “Quarantine has been tough, but it has also given us some extra time to practice new dances, take part in some challenges, and also focus on our social media presence,” said Azma Mulundika, president of the club. Watch the group’s performance here.

Beyond student clubs, Northwestern Qatar’s student affairs department also launched several programs engaging the student body’s diverse interests during the lockdown, such as Northwestern Qatar Cooks, which, according to Keelie Sorel, director of student affairs, “is an initiative rooted in building community through food.”

Students who heard about the concept of the program requested that Darrell Pinontoan, a sophomore known among his peers for his passion and skill in cooking, be asked to participate. “I love cooking and have cooked ever since I was a child,” Pinontoan said. “It’s a bond that I share with all my family members. I also love to be able to serve others and be a source of joy for people and just to share something back with my community.”