Language and Literacy doctoral student Ghanem Alghuwainem had the opportunity of a lifetime when he spoke in December at the United Nations headquarters for the International Day of the Arabic Language.
The event commemorated the day the U.N. added Arabic as its sixth official language and was attended by various diplomats and officials, including the president of the U.N. General Assembly, the deputy secretary general and the ambassador and permanent representative of League of the Arab States to the U.N.
“I was honored to be chosen to participate,” says Alghuwainem, who was one of six graduate students invited to present research at the event.
His research focused on the Program for International Student Assessment exam, implemented worldwide by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Alghuwainem studied the translation of the exam’s critical thinking questions and whether they related culturally to the Arabic-speaking students taking the test.
His research found that while the translations were technically accurate, they lacked in representing the full cultural and linguistic variances among students, putting them at an inherent disadvantage.
“It was amazing to share my research in a room where actual change could result,” Alghuwainem says. “I did not place blame but simply shared my findings in the hope that the exam could be more equitable for future students. Even with a team of experts, we can sometimes miss what is outside of our personal experience.”
After his presentation, Saudi Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasel presented Alghuwainem with the King Salman Global Academy Award for his academic contribution. Alghuwainem credits his experience in USC’s College of Education with preparing him for the presentation.
“I’m thankful for the program quality, the variety of classes and the collaborative work I’ve done with my professors, because without them I would not have had this chance,” Alghuwainem says. “My advisor, Professor Eurydice Bauer, has pushed me throughout this program to submit to conferences and share my research.”
He says Professors Catherine Compton-Lilly and Kara Brown encouraged him to broaden his understanding of comparative education. They nurtured his critical thinking and helped him see new paths for engaging readers through their backgrounds.
“It is always wonderful to have opportunities to work with international graduate students,” Compton-Lilly says. “Through these experiences, we learn about how things — including educational practices — happen and are understood in other places. This is significant to our work at the college as we work to improve education in our nation and beyond.”
In Saudi Arabia, Alghuwainem works as an English lecturer. This work helps him engage with his classes in an active manner while conducting scholarly investigations of English-education policies in his home country.
“As Ghanem’s professor in comparative and international education, I was thrilled to help nurture his growing interests in language issues in Saudi Arabia,” Brown says. “In that course, Ghanem shared — with enthusiasm and care — a great deal about education and culture in his home country. Given this memorable experience, I imagine he served as a tremendous representative of USC graduate studies at the United Nations in December.”
Alghuwainem is already setting his sights on his next goal. He hopes to play a larger role in helping his country improve its education sector and has already heard from country leadership on how he can collaborate in the future. His advisor knows his level of impact is just beginning.
“Ghanem came to USC with a focus on how to gain a deeper understanding of how to improve the education of young people in Saudi Arabia and never lost sight of that,” Bauer says. “He is a hard-working student with a big heart! I have no doubt we will be hearing about him after he graduates.”