Salma Shitia ’18, a Near Eastern Studies major in the College of Arts & Sciences, was recognized at the Public Service Center’s End of Year Celebration as the recipient of this year’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Award. The Class of 1964 established the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award to encourage well-qualified Cornell students to enter careers in government or public service. The $15,000 award endeavors to further President Kennedy’s interest in realizing the leadership potential of America’s youth. The Class of 1964 bestows the award annually on a graduating senior who has proven their commitment to contributing to the public through a career in government or public service and demonstrated a high level of academic achievement.
While attending Cornell, Shitia volunteered as a translator of emails, conference calls, and legal documents for Iraqi citizens in search of humanitarian asylum after collaboration with the United States during the Iraqi invasion. She served as a translator-interpreter for both the Cornell Translator-Interpreter Program as well as the Cornell Law School International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).
In 2015, Shitia founded an on-campus non-profit organization, Cornell Welcomes Refugees, and co-founded an off-campus non-profit, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, which helped resettle 50 refugees in Upstate New York.
Shitia was selected to volunteer for the Cornell Labor Law Clinic and researched Nestle’s trafficking practices in West Africa. She served as a Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar Executive Board member for three years as an honor for her leadership and commitment to enhancing the program experience for other Meinigs.
She also has served as a Residential Advisor for the Arabic Language House on West Campus and collaborated with a team of professor, undergraduate, and graduate staff to maximize Arabic influence while providing emotional and academic support to residents of diverse backgrounds.
As a legal intern with the State Office of the Attorney General, she conducted over 100 legal mediations for Connecticut consumers who had filed formal complaints against companies and businesses to obtain settlements. As an intern with Bamyan Media, she promoted entrepreneurship in Egypt with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). As an intern, she traveled across Egypt to recruit contestants for a reality television show called “The Project,” which promotes entrepreneurship.
Shitia also represented the United States of America and Cornell University at the 16th Annual Beirut Exchange in Lebanon, where she met with prominent leaders of the Arab World to gain a deeper understanding of Lebanese and regional politics. There, she debated with leaders and other international representatives on justice and international accountability pertaining to the refugee crises. After returning to Cornell, she presented her experience with the Near Eastern Studies Department and community.
Upon graduation, Shitia plans to pursue a career in international public service with a concentration in human rights. She will be studying law at the Georgetown University Law Center with a focus on asylum and immigration.
“I have dedicated my studies, coalition-building, language acquisition, and time, to advocating for and resettling refugees, undocumented persons, and immigrants,” Shitia said.
She will use the JFK Award to supplement living expenses during summer experiences and internships as a law student. The grant will aid her in contributing to the fight for human rights.
For more information about this award please visit the Public Service Center website.