IMPAQT program aims to connect campuses

The IMPAQT immersion program offers Carnegie Mellon students unique cultural and diverse learning opportunities. (credit: Courtesy of BBBAH) The IMPAQT immersion program offers Carnegie Mellon students unique cultural and diverse learning opportunities. (credit: Courtesy of BBBAH) Students from the IMPAQT program enjoyed Qatar. (credit: Courtesy of BBBAH) Students from the IMPAQT program enjoyed Qatar. (credit: Courtesy of BBBAH)

This past spring break, a group of Carnegie Mellon students began a week-long immersion into the university’s Qatar campus in order to experience the academic, cultural, and social experiences that it offers. The IMPAQT (Initiating Meaningful Pittsburgh and Qatar Ties) program has sponsored eight student leaders every year since 2008 to spend a week in Qatar. Students attended classes, explored local markets and historical sites, built friendships with students and faculty, and brought back memories to share with the rest of Pittsburgh.

The 2011 students were Daniel Chow, a junior industrial design major; Arjun Katragadda, a sophomore dual business administration and decision science major; Jennifer Major, a junior psychology major; Jessamyn Miller, a graduate communications and design major; Sara Mouhktar, a sophomore psychology major; Crismely (Cris) Peña, a first-year mechanical engineering major; and Andrès Vèlez, a first-year economics major. Jennifer McNabb, a chaperone from the Office of International Education, accompanied the students on the trip.

Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus is located in Education City, an academic community on the edge of Doha, and offers three majors in business administration, information systems, and computer science. In addition to Carnegie Mellon students, Education City features over 1,300 students of more than 70 nationalities from various universities on a 2,500 acre campus. English serves as a common language among citizens and foreigners. In the country itself, less than a third of the population is Qatari, while the remainder are expatriates who have come to live, work, or study in Qatar, according to the students. “A lot of parents do not want their children too far away for college, and the only opportunity to go to a real college, especially for the girls, is to go to Education City,” said Vèlez.

As the eight arrived in Qatar, they immediately noticed how welcoming the students were.

Student guides took time out of their academic and religious schedules to accompany the visiting students to activities throughout the city. Mouhktar emphasized “how warmly we were welcomed and the general courtesy of everyone.” Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar students were also very open to answer any questions about their classes, religion in their lives, and social relationships. As Miller noted, “We attended the Global Islam class, and one of Dr. Kaba’s points is that Islam is not homogeneous and every Muslim is not the same. There are so many countries, and each practices in its own way.”

On the first day, students drank traditional karak, or milk tea with spices, while meeting with Qatar students.

On campus, they painted the benches as a link to painting the Pittsburgh campus’s Fence. The students also attended a “Big Questions Dinner” program, a Qalta meeting (a Summit-like program), a photography club lecture, a tour of the future residence hall construction site, and the Doha Debates Forum. They also got a sneak peak at the Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh room, which will complement the Qatar Room currently being prepared in Resnik Cafe.

When the group traveled off campus, the students visited the traditional Souq Wakif market in Doha; the Museum of Islamic Art; the Modern Art Museum; the Katara Cultural Village; the Emir’s equestrian facility Al-Shaqab, which includes world-renowned Arabian horses; and the FANAR Islamic Cultural Center. They also enjoyed a dhow boat trip with other students.

On the dhow boat, owned by a student, Katragadda and Chow commented that, “At first it felt awkward because we felt like we were intruding on their vacation, but then we began to break the ice when they started traditional Qatari dances. They did some traditional dancing and played the oud, so we showed them our dances like the electric slide, macarena, and bhangra. We alternated between their dances and our dances.”

One of the missions of the IMPAQT group, upon returning to the Pittsburgh campus, is to spread the message of the Qatar campus and encourage stronger connections between the two campuses.

“One of the reasons the Office of International Education runs this program is because we do see it as a great way to create closer ties between the campuses. It is a true exchange ... and the program allows students to serve as ambassadors and take back information that others would want to know,” said Melissa Dechamps, director of the International Office of Education in Qatar and a longtime collaborator with the IMPAQT program.

On April 12 at 10:30 a.m. EST, both campuses will experience communication with the unveiling of the Qatar Room in Pittsburgh and the reciprocal Pittsburgh Room in Qatar. On the day of the opening, there will be footage from the IMPAQT group as well as live video of Doha’s International Week.

Located in Resnik, the room will feature videoconferencing capability during dining hours, a blend of modern and traditional Qatari art, gifts from the student IMPAQT groups, and more events as the room is finished.

Kim Abel, the director of Housing and Dining Services, has been involved with the construction of the room from the very beginning. When determining the location of the room, the goal was to place it in a common area. “We looked at how it would promote the IMPAQT program, [and] continue to develop interactions with one another from different campuses, and that is really what the intention of the room design was,” said Abel.

For any students interested in the IMPAQT program, applications will be available in early fall 2011.

The IMPAQT group had a blog running during their stay in Qatar,, and they hope that students will visit the site to learn more about their day-to-day adventures in Education City and Doha.