BGSU doctoral student organizes conference for students, scholars in native Algeria
Meriem Mechehoud realizes 'perfect chance to give something back to my home community'
There might be more than 4,600 miles between Skikda, Algeria, and Bowling Green, Ohio, but that didn’t stop Meriem Mechehoud from reaching out to help students at her alma mater.
Mechehoud, a doctoral student in the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University, wanted to do something to help the students at the University of Skikda in her hometown.
She had graduated from the University of Badji Mokhtar Annaba in Algeria with an undergraduate degree in English language and literature. She knew that because of funding — not lack of ability — students there didn’t always have access to conference opportunities. By winning a Fulbright Alumni Community Action Grant, Mechehoud was able to change that.
“I really wanted to give students something different for their college experience,” she said. “When I saw the grant opportunity to create a local event, it seemed like the perfect chance to give something back to my home community.”
The conference, “Innovative Teaching Materials and Strategies (ITMS),” for students and scholars in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) programs took place at the University of Skikda in October 2019. One of the tricky parts for Mechehoud was that she was organizing it from Bowling Green.
“I had planned to be there for the event,” she said. “But I received the grant and my Ph.D. offer from BGSU at the same time. As I was in my first semester of coursework, there just wasn’t time to go back home to manage it onsite or even attend. What we were able to do is make the organization of the conference another piece of the student experience.”
With the support of faculty both at BGSU and Skikda, Mechehoud was able to work with a group of about 20 students in Algeria to coordinate all of the logistics and management of the event, making it the first conference in the country completely run by students.
“When I saw the grant opportunity to create a local event, it seemed like the perfect chance to give something back to my home community.”
“I worked with an amazing group,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, and at one point I thought we should just cancel, but with the help of my partners Dr. Bouchra Bouteraa, Houda Nasri, Fatima Bouglouf in Skikda, and Dr. Lara Lengel, and Paul Valdez at BGSU—and my amazing family—we managed to put it all together. It really was a dream team of students, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Lengel and Valdez also presented a virtual keynote address to the group, “Introduction to Service-Learning: Overview of Core Elements and Considerations for Practice.” to help students and faculty in Algeria learn about how service learning is applied in classroom at BGSU.
Deemed a success by all, the ITMS event gave about 300 students and scholars a chance to present research and have the experience of attending a professional academic conference for three days of discussions, presentations, and training.
Starting the doctoral program in 2019 wasn’t Mechehoud’s first time attending BGSU. Her experience here started in 2014 when she attended the University as a Fulbright Scholar, and received master’s degrees in both American cultural studies and in cross cultural and international education (MACIE). She returned home to Algeria in 2017 but was very excited about the opportunity to come back to BGSU and Bowling Green.
“I came here because of the reputation of the academic programs,” she said. “But once I arrived, I fell in love with the town and all of the welcoming and support I found here. I’m looking forward to taking my education and either working in academia, or a non-governmental organization that focuses cultural diplomacy, particularly in regard to the Middle East and North Africa. I think that is something that is very much needed.”