It’s only fitting that Allia Vaez wants to someday serve in the Doctors without Borders program.
As Shakespeare once penned, “What’s past is prologue.” The Eastern Kentucky University senior has already spent many of her 21 years busting barriers between diverse cultures and building bridges of goodwill. And that is why she was recently selected by the newly established Global Citizenship Alliance (www.globalcitizenshipalliance.org) as its first and only all-expenses-paid student-leader intern for 2016. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemistry (pre-med) this May, Vaez will join a half dozen or so other interns from around the world in Austria at the Salzburg Global Seminar, whose lofty mission is to challenge current and future leaders to solve issues of worldwide concern and which will provide a home and a workplace for her during a three-month internship with the Alliance.
It won’t be the Richmond native’s first visit to Salzburg or even her first experience with the Global Citizenship Program. In 2014, Vaez was one of three delegates in EKU’s inaugural student contingent to participate in one of its weeklong seminars. The second-generation Iranian-American made a vivid and lasting impression on many that summer, notably Dr. Jochen Fried, now president and CEO of the Global Citizenship Alliance.
“Allia contributed to all discussions with great enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of issues that were addressed in the course of the week,” Fried said. “I was so impressed with (her) maturity, intellect and sound judgment that I invited her to apply for an internship with us after her graduation – an offer that we only very rarely extend because we receive so many unsolicited applications.
“Allia understands the nature of globalization, has a deep appreciation for human diversity, and recognizes the challenges that are compromising humanity’s future. More importantly, she perceives these issues through the lenses of a future medical doctor. The future would look brighter if there were more people like Allia who combine the commitment of a humanitarian and the ambitions of a medical doctor.”
Salzburg is both a bigger stage for replicating her past efforts on the EKU campus and a springboard to launch additional small-scale efforts for positive change at home. The co-valedictorian of her 2012 graduation class at Model Laboratory School grew up with a global awareness borne of her own family’s journey. Her parents, long-time EKU faculty and staff members Dr. Jaleh Rezaie (now at North Carolina Central University) and Dr. Hossein Vaez, remained in the U.S. in the wake of the 1979 revolution in their homeland.
Despite a demanding academic major – and she minored in French – and her participation in EKU’s nationally prominent Honors program, Vaez has maintained a 3.81 GPA and found time to head numerous campus initiatives designed to promote excellence and diversity and further international dialogue and understanding. For example, she:
· served as president of the International Students Association, mentoring many students.
· served as vice president of GLOBAL (Girls Learning of Becoming a Leader).
· organized “Unveiling Truth behind Colorful Scarves,” a forum explaining the meaning of modesty and head coverings to women in different parts of the Middle East.
· organized the “My Story: International Female Professionals at EKU” forum on adapting to the American culture and getting ahead in career paths.
· created a video, “Global Misconceptions,” which involved asking students questions about different cultures, demonstrating how many misconceptions unknowingly exist.
· helped EKU tutors overcome cultural and language barriers.
· organized the international exhibit at the University’s annual City Fest.
· organized bowling nights to help American and international students bond in a fun setting.
Little wonder Dr. Minh Nguyen, director of EKU’s Asian Studies Program, associate director of EKU Honors and coordinator of National and International Scholarships and Fellowships, exclaimed, “You will hardly find a more determined, focused and goal-oriented person – utterly committed to promoting human rights, diversity and active citizenship in her community and around the world – than Allia.”
Add to that a heart for service and helping the less fortunate. Her senior Honors thesis examined treatment approaches for neonatal jaundice in her ancestral homeland, a subject into which she gained some insights through her research with a global medicine pediatrician at the University of Minnesota and through her hospital volunteer work. It’s a passion she hopes to explore further when she enters Duke University’s “very unique” master’s degree program in global health this fall – “an absolutely perfect fit for her talents and interests,” said Dr. David Coleman, director of EKU Honors.
A volunteer stint in the maternity ward at St. Joseph East Hospital in Lexington confirmed her desire to pursue a career in that branch of health care. As she eyes a rewarding career in medicine, Vaez said her liberal arts grounding in EKU Honors has been the yin to her science-minded yang: “It has helped me decide what I want to do with my life. It has helped me learn how to connect with people better, especially those from different backgrounds. If you can’t connect with people, you won’t be a good doctor.”
The week of April 10-16 found Vaez pursuing a more artistic passion. As a member of EKU Dance Theatre, she took her spin in the spotlight at the troupe’s annual spring concert.
“I always loved to dance,” she said. “I find that when I’m dancing, everything else goes away. It’s the best stress relief.”
Such is Vaez’s commitment to personal excellence that if she chose dancing for a career, Nguyen probably wouldn’t be surprised to find his protégé on Broadway someday.
“Because of her first-rate intellect, temperament and character, she is poised to be an absolute success not only in whatever profession she wishes to pursue,” Nguyen said, “but also, and more importantly, in the fight to protect minorities and promote human rights.”
Remembering the standard Vaez set two years ago, Fried said the soon-to-be EKU graduate could again “make a profound difference in the lives of other young students” this summer in Salzburg. “Allia cares deeply about significant social issues and is skilled at sharing her ideas in ways that are meaningful while at the same time brining consideration of diverging perspectives. She is well-trained, studious, ambitious, and yet very open-minded and self-effacing. All of these attributes combined make her a great student and future professional, as good at helping others learn as she is in her own learning.”