People > alumni profiles > zeina saab
- Class:MCP '08
- Home:Lebanon via California
- Undergraduate Degree: University of California, San Diego
- Geographic and Thematic Areas of Interest while at MIT:The Role of Urban Planning on Social Relations Between Communities in Conflict,
Particularly in the Middle East
- Awards, and Schlarships:MIT Partial Tuition Fellowship
- Curriculum Vitae (PDF)
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Q. Where do you work now?
Saab: I am currently working with USAID?s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Beirut, Lebanon. I am the external consultant for project monitoring and evaluation, whereby I assess the impact and effectiveness of various OTI-funded projects around Lebanon. Many of the projects focus on community development, capacity-building, civic engagement, conflict mitigation, and youth empowerment. I conduct field visits, interview beneficiaries and stakeholders, write reports, and offer recommendations for future projects.
Q. What do you like most about your current job?
Saab: So far I have had a very enriching experience working with USAID/OTI. What draws me to this job is the fact that it involves working with underprivileged populations all across the country and thus allows me to interact with people from various social, religious, and economic backgrounds. I have established important connections with beneficiaries and project managers, learned more about the reasons and consequences of some underdeveloped regions in Lebanon, and have assessed and analyzed prospects for intervention in these areas. I have gained further insight on the role politics plays in development and of ways to circumvent such obstacles and challenges.
Q. How did the skills that you acquired at DUSP help you find interesting work?
Saab: I entered DUSP knowing that I was interested in focusing on conflict cities, but I was not certain of the role of urban planning in both increasing and mitigating tension between various communities. I was given the opportunity to be the program coordinator for the Just Jerusalem Project, co-sponsored by DUSP, during my first year. At this time I realized that indeed, the way that cities are built clearly has an impact on the social relations of its inhabitants. As a result, I became interested in learning more about the way different ethnic and religious communities situate themselves in the city, and the reasons for it. I was able to develop the skills needed to understand the dynamics of ethnic and religious segregation. This allowed me to offer insight and perspective on urban social relations in conflict areas. Because this issue is very relevant in Lebanon, my experience allowed me to secure a challenging and fulfilling position with USAID/OTI.
Q. Which things that you learned at DUSP are most useful in your current position?
Saab: My position as project monitor and evaluator entails extensive qualitative research, including interviewing and observation. At DUSP, I was given several opportunities to put real-world problems into perspective by conducting important field research through a number of courses, which undoubtedly honed my interviewing and inter-personal skills. I attended community meetings on Dudley Street in South Boston, interviewed the Brazilian and Portuguese populations on Cambridge Street, and studied the impact of foreclosures on the low-income immigrant population in Springfield. In addition, I traveled to India and conducted a study on solid waste management in poor, informal settlements and created proposals for intervention. My thesis on Muslim-Christian residential integration in Beirut entailed interviewing a number of residents and making important neighborhood observations. A combination of courses that focused on research concepts as well as practical, hands-on opportunities have prepared and trained me in developing important interviewing skills and abilities which are essential for my position at OTI.
Q. What did you like most about the MCP program?
Saab: In DUSP, I found that although I entered the program with a particular interest in mind, I was encouraged to explore other issues in order to develop a broader perspective on urban planning and international development. While my main focus was on social/ethnic relations in conflict areas, I ended up taking courses and being exposed to issues and concepts I did not have much background in, such as water and sanitation technologies, solid waste management, housing design issues, foreclosures, and local economic development. This exposure challenged me and forced me to question more and to think critically and analytically. While I am no expert in these issues, I am able to understand them and pose important questions. This holistic and more comprehensive exposure to urbanism and its problems has given me a more insightful understanding of international development.
Q. What surprised you the most about the MCP program?
Saab: I was pleasantly surprised to learn how flexible the MCP program is. Students can finish their degree early, or they may take a longer time to complete it if they choose to work while enrolled in DUSP. Students also have the opportunity to do another joint degree either at MIT or Harvard. Those who wish to take more courses at DUSP are allowed to stay on for a third year. Moreover, it is possible for students to take some time off to work and gain experience elsewhere before continuing their degree. In addition, students who are unable to finish their theses on time may ask for an extension. For example, because of the instability and occasional violence in Beirut, I was unable to complete my thesis field research on time, and thus requested an extension and finished my thesis in September rather than in May. The faculty and administration are very understanding and try to accommodate each student based on his/her needs, and thus, the program has adopted a very flexible rather than rigid approach.