Arab Studies / Human Rights
B.A. anticipated June 2014, Summa cum Laude
Home College: Hunter
Mentor: Prof. Christopher Stone, Classics, Hunter
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship
Center for Arabic Study Abroad Fellowship
Golden Key Undergraduate Achievement Award
Born to immigrant parents, Michelle Balon is the first in her family to attain a four-year university degree directly after high school. An ESL student in grade school, she is now fluent in English, Russian, Egyptian Arabic and Standard Arabic. In CUNY BA her goal has been “to attain a holistic understanding of the Arab World and international human rights;” for this, she took her courses at Hunter and City, studied at the Arab-American Language Institute in Morocco thanks to the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship, interned at the Human Rights Watch in their Middle East/North Africa division, and studied in Egypt for three consecutive summers, where she volunteered with the local charity Resala and other development initiatives.
She applied what she learned from her coursework by interning during her senior year at the non-profit organization Education For Employment, which provides life and skills training to unemployed Arab youth. She was the first American to ever be sent abroad by the organization to intern with a local affiliate, and spent the Winter of 2014 interning with the EFE office in Egypt. On campus she was an active member of Students for Justice in Palestine and volunteered as an Arabic tutor for beginning, intermediate and advanced students in the Hunter College Arabic department.
According to her mentor, who gave her a rare A+ in Intermediate Arabic 2, Balon is “an extraordinary student and language learner. She rates in the top 1% of students I have taught here at Hunter, as well as at Princeton, Emory, Williams and Middlebury.”
She has a received full fellowship to enroll in the year-long language program CASA (Center for Arabic Study Abroad, sponsored by Harvard), the most competitive and challenging Arabic language program in the world. Only 25 students nationally were awarded full fellowships to participate this year, out of hundreds of applications. Prof. Jillian Schwedler, Political Science, Hunter, with whom Balon did an independent study, said of CASA, “To win these slots, students must have stellar academic records and letters of reference, and they must also take a grueling 8-hour language exam; most of those admitted are advanced graduate students.”