Soon-to-be alumna Al Reem shares her enthusiasm for the Core Curriculum at NYU Abu Dhabi, a distinct inter-disciplinary representation of the University’s mission to “provide an international student body with an outstanding, expansive education.”
How Would You Explain the Core Curriculum at NYUAD to Someone Who Has Never Heard of It?
The Core Curriculum is an opportunity for students to discover interests and passions in disciplines they didn’t know. We engage with topics from a local and global perspective. It is a holistic, well-rounded set of classes of a student’s choosing, in four different categories and with two seminar-based colloquium courses.
What Was Your Favorite Core Colloquia Class?
I guess this is like asking a parent who your favorite child is! I took three colloquia classes and absolutely enjoyed Contagion. We looked at literature—from academic articles and novels to poetry and plays. We discussed how families, communities, and societies at large respond to pandemics. And we examined the social and psychological reformations that follow.
Another class I took was What Do Leaders Do?. The title is very attractive. I hoped to get one solid answer to it by the end of the semester. I left, however, with more questions—good questions—about leadership. “This course will not teach you how to become a leader,” my professor said in our first class. I found that very grounding for this unique academic experience. We asked the question of why there are so many courses on leadership and decontextualized the word “leader.” We also looked at various figures in case studies and debated the multiple ways an individual can rise to prominence.
Tell Us about the Core Competencies: How Did You Choose Your Classes Among the Four Subject Groups: Arts, Design, and Technology, Cultural Exploration and Analysis, Data and Discovery, and Structures of Thought and Society?
In a sense this structure helps make sure that you take courses in at least four diverse categories, which is exciting. I mainly chose my courses by personal interest and the professor’s academic and professional background. These courses are tailored in a way that is introductory and don’t expect you to have a previous background in the subject.
I chose courses I didn’t know much about or hadn’t read anything about. I took a class called Dis/Abilities in Musical Contexts with no previous knowledge in music or disability studies. It was such a fun learning practice, one I will never forget. I especially recall the few classes we spent practicing conversations in American Sign Language.
What Was Challenging About Taking Core Classes That Were in Subjects out of Your Wheelhouse?
I guess the biggest challenge is a personal one—the fear of not doing well in those classes. With the support of professors and peers, I learned to engage in class discussions because these were the most precious learning opportunities.
Tell Us About Your Work with Professor Bryan Waterman in the Core Curriculum Advisory Committee? Why Was It Important to You to Be an Active Core Curriculum Representative?
Working with Bryan Waterman, associate professor of literature and vice provost for undergraduate academic development, is one of the best experiences I’ve had at NYUAD. He is such a great teacher and mentor, dedicated to the betterment of the students’ academic knowledge. His work, focus, and commitment to the University and its students has always inspired me.
I am indeed grateful to have seen the “master at work” up close on various occasions. Some of these include Candidate Weekend sessions, new faculty onboarding panels, the launch panel of the Hilary Ballon Center for Teaching and Learning, the Return to Campus: Undergraduate Academics and Education working group, and Core Curriculum advisory panels, amongst other webinars and events.
The Core Advisory offers an opportunity for students to express any concerns regarding the Core Curriculum classes. In this role, we look at the bigger picture of how the Core fits within the students’ academic experience. We also brainstorm ways to message the philosophy behind the Core and help students make the most of their academic time and classes.
It was important for me to be an active member of these committees. They truly showed me that students have a voice, in extracurricular activities and in academic reflection and delivery, the heart of any undergraduate degree. NYU Abu Dhabi is a new and young American institution in the UAE. I was also able to reflect and explain how the Core Curriculum can be relevant to this part of the world, as well as globally.
How Did the Core at NYUAD Make Your University Experience Unique?
The Core classes made my NYUAD experience unique because I was sitting in the same class with students from all kinds of majors and academic years. I looked forward to every class! Prospective artists, engineers, scientists, social scientists, or “name any other roles here,” we did engage with and responded to the same material. I don’t think I would’ve had this particular classroom exposure anywhere else.
How Did You Choose Your Art and Art History Major?
I have always enjoyed making art and wanted to spend more time creating and studying it. While this came naturally to me, I also learned that becoming an artist or a professional in any art field requires deliberate studying and consideration. Fortunately, at NYUAD we have great professors from a variety of art disciplines and backgrounds. I even had to make a choice between specific tracks, minors, and Capstone topics.
Tell Us About the Connections You Made with Faculty and the Academic Support You Received During Your Degree at NYUAD?
One of the pros of attending NYUAD is the small faculty-to-student ratio, meaning that you have easy access to your faculty. During my studies, I received support from faculty during office hours and worked with some on events outside the class.
I took a course called Manus Et Machina from the arts, design, and technology Core category. I then worked with the same professor on other projects the following semesters, one of them being an embassy led-project, the Emirati-German Buddy Bear, pictured here!
How Were You Able to Link What You Were Learning in the Classroom to the “Real World”?
The Core classes taught me how to ask big questions—good, smart, important questions. Sometimes that sounded drowning and overwhelming. I started to look at the world around me from an analytical and reflective perspective. This is a very handy and helpful skill to have living in the UAE, and especially Abu Dhabi—honestly, in any metropolitan city. Especially if you want to make an impact.
You see, I started university thinking that NYU Abu Dhabi would give me all the answers to the complicated issues that humanity faces. It rather gave me tools and skills to approach these issues and topics. I can do that with efficiency, an open-mind, and a deeper understanding of how to tackle the how and the why.
Two Core Colloquium courses I took, Contagion and Calamity and Creation, could not be more related to what’s happening in the world today under the COVID-19 pandemic if they tried. As a visual arts student, working on my Capstone project came with its challenges. It also made me reflect on the literature I read in those classes and consider other possibilities in making art.
What’s Next, as You Graduate from NYU Abu Dhabi?
As a graduate, I am keen on developing my practice further and find more of myself while making art. I am excited to see where my art “career” goes. Whether I go on to do a masters or not, my experiences and time will decide.
Meanwhile, I’m going to spend time working on developing the Arabic magazine I launched while at NYUAD, Alnakheel Magazine (IG: @alnakheelmag). I also accepted a job at the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and hope to start working there in July or August of 2021!