by Emily Gayle

Twin sisters, Ayah and Mennah Abdelwahab, have forever made their mark as SPIA students. As graduation nears, these stellar students were selected as UGA Presidential Award of Excellence recipients. The UGA Presidential Award of Excellence is awarded every year to undergraduate students in their final year of study. These individuals represent the top one percent of undergraduates at UGA who excel not only in academics, but also in their service to the community and in their leadership both on and off campus.

Nominated by Dean Auer, Ayah and Mennah received this award because they demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, strong extracurricular involvement, and service to and involvement in SPIA. No two students could be more deserving.

Born and raised in Bogart, Georgia, both Ayah and Mennah have gone above and beyond to give back to their communities. Breaking out of the UGA “bubble”, they came into college wanting to be more involved and give back to the community they grew up in.

“Something I wanted to do more throughout college was to be able to participate in activities that were more service-oriented, specifically toward the Athens community,” said Ayah.

Ayah, receiving degrees in International Affairs and Economics, an Arabic minor, and a Global Studies certificate, has been involved in many organizations and research efforts across campus, including SPIA’s Security Leadership Program, SPIA Student Union, the Spencer Frye Fellowship, and Athens Peer Court.

Receiving degrees in International Affairs and Journalism, minors in Arabic and Law, Jurisprudence, and the State, and a Global Studies certificate, Mennah has also contributed much of her time to UGA, SPIA, and the Athens community by being a part of the Student Government Association, ICNA Shifa Clinic, the Spencer Frye Fellowship, and the Grady Ambassador program.

Ayah and Mennah have also completed amazing internships throughout their college careers. Through an opportunity with the Honors in Washington program at UGA, Ayah was able to research and study remotely at the Public Policy and International Affairs Program Junior Summer Institute at Princeton University. This program offers underrepresented students the chance to break into the policy world. Mennah, on the other hand, has had the chance to remotely intern with Congressman John Lewis’ office and the Department of Justice in the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions section.

They were admitted to UGA as Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) Honors Scholars in 2018 and have since conducted research with SPIA professors, Drs. Gell-Redman and Clay. Both students currently work in Dr. Clay’s Human Rights Lab, for which they have consecutively presented at the CURO Symposium and the SPIA Undergraduate Research Colloquium (SPIA URC). Ayah and Mennah both rave about their experiences and classes with Dr. Clay and Dr. Gallagher, citing both people as their favorite professors in and out of the classroom.

Additionally, Mennah and Ayah both mentioned how they appreciate the supportive environment that has fostered them in SPIA.

“For us coming to college in the US, and for our parents who went to college in Egypt… it’s been really amazing, generally at UGA, but specifically at SPIA to have so many people be able to support you,” said Mennah. “I have been able to do a lot of really cool things, but it all comes back having that support from a bunch of different people. I feel like it’s a testament to how supportive people have been.”

Ayah echoes her sister’s sentiment: “Something that stands out about SPIA is how strong of a sense of community there is… where you not only get to know faculty but students and staff, you know like the Dean will see you and he’ll stop to have a conversation… it highlights the commitment to supporting students.”

These two women have simply gone above and beyond what was asked of them as SPIA students. After graduation in May, Mennah will participate in a summer internship with the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Congressional Leadership Development Program, where she will pursue a full-time position at the conclusion of her internship. Ayah has accepted a position with the Department of the Treasury’s International Affairs Junior Fellowship in their Africa Office.

Congratulations to both students for this amazing achievement!