Christelle Barakat has one goal in life: to make a difference in the world by shattering glass ceilings and giving back.
And this peace and conflict studies graduate student is well on her way. One look at her seven-page curriculum vitae full of accolades, service, and global experience, and you would know that this Spartan is a leader in the making.
A native of Lebanon, Barakat attended the Lebanese American University for her undergraduate degree, where her passion for peace and conflict studies was ignited through her course work in conflict analysis and resolution, through her internships at the Institute of Finance Basil Fuleihan and the Media Association for Peace, and through her involvement in the Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) for Student Leaders, where she was one of five students from her country selected by the U.S. Department of State.
“These experiences really formed me into the person I am today and forged the pathways that opened up a multitude of opportunities for me.”
One of those opportunities included a scholarship through the prestigious Fulbright Foreign Student Program. Led by the U.S. government in partnership with more than 160 countries worldwide, the Fulbright Program offers international educational and cultural exchange programs for passionate and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach, or pursue important research and professional projects. For Barakat, this scholarship enabled her to pursue a master’s degree in peace and conflict studies and get one step closer to her dream of giving back to her home country through diplomacy and academia.
“Being a woman in this field is not very common in the Middle East, but there’s a dire need for it. Women are sometimes part of vulnerable populations, and they feel more comfortable opening up to somebody who looks like them.”
What made UNC Greensboro stand out to Barakat was the University’s comprehensive peace and conflict studies master’s program, wide range of extracurricular offerings, leadership opportunities, and welcoming environment. But most importantly, she felt drawn to the University’s motto of service.
“When looking at programs, I wanted something that touched all areas of conflict – interpersonal, communal, intercultural, global, national, and so on. And UNCG had that. But what really sealed the deal for me was the University’s motto of ‘service.’ I saw there were offerings like the Bronze Leadership Challenge and the Civic Engagement Academy through the Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement – service opportunities that would be enriching to my life as a student outside of studying.”
When Barakat arrived on campus in the fall of 2020, she wasn’t going to let the challenges of the pandemic keep her from immersing herself in her newfound community.
“I was interested in building a community at my new school, and just by looking at UNCG’s website, I could tell that this campus would feel like home. When I arrived, I was committed to doing everything I could to get involved. And I was right – UNCG did become my home away from home.”
Barakat became a leader in the classroom, sharing her perspective as an international student by hosting departmental presentations about her home country of Lebanon and partnering with peers to learn more about the cultures of UNCG’s diverse student body.
And she was a leader outside of the classroom, making an impact on campus and in the community by leading multiple service projects through the Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement, interning with the Center for New North Carolinians, working as a global leadership program coordinator and graduate assistant for programming within the International Programs Center, leading six student organizations, and volunteering with Pathways at Guilford County and Rutgers’ Student Voices for Refugees Network.
“What I love about UNCG are the endless opportunities for service and volunteering. There’s a commitment to enriching students’ lives here – they focus on you as a whole, not just your GPA.”
These opportunities culminated in exciting opportunities for the graduate student.
Barakat was one of ten selected to be a United Nations Youth Champion for Disarmament, who apply their talents to help raise awareness and promote change for a more peaceful and secure world. She was selected from among 6,515 applicants in 157 countries. In the program, she trained on the general principles of disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control; developed and implemented projects to engage local communities on disarmament-related issues; and traveled to New York and Geneva to meet with officials from organizations that support multilateral treaties, promote scientific and technical cooperation, and verify adherence to international norms in the areas of disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control.
Most recently, Barakat was selected as one of 25 UN Leaders 4 Tomorrow. In the program, she meets with other program members to explore the role of young people in advancing disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control (D.N.A.) objectives during five interactive and engaging workshops conducted with UN staff, youth speakers, and other global experts.
And for her commitment to academic excellence, leadership, and service, Barakat was named a finalist for the internationally-recognized 2022 Rhodes Scholarship, often considered the most prestigious international program of its kind in the world.
Now, with a resume full of accolades and leadership experience, plus a UNCG degree soon to be under her belt, Barakat is ready to take on the world.
“UNCG has done so much for me – opening up doors for new opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I know the connections that I’ve made here and the support I’ve received will continue even after I graduate in May, and I get to take the leadership skills and knowledge that I’ve gained during my time here back home to make an impact in my community.”
What’s next for the soon-to-be graduate? She’s been accepted into Oxford University to pursue an MPhil in Development Studies, and ultimately, she wants to have a career within the UN.
“Unfortunately, in my country, you learn from a young age to dream within your limits due to glass ceilings particularly felt by women. I want to break that construct and shatter that glass ceiling to change my country and the world for the better.”
Story by Alexandra McQueen, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications