Announcing the 2018 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient: Grace Makhoul

The 2018-19 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Grace Makhoul. Congratulations Grace! 


About Grace

Ms. Grace Makhoul, a first-year candidate in Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Arab Studies Program, is the 2018-2019 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship. Originally from Homs, Syria, Grace graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 2018 with a BA in Peace and Global Studies and Comparative Languages and Linguistics. As an undergraduate, she was heavily involved in student government and was also a strong advocate for international students’ rights and promoted awareness of the Palestinian cause. She has interned at UNRWA USA—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees—in Washington, DC, where she served as a research and administrative intern. Grace has been serving as a selection officer and a PR manager for the United World Colleges Syrian National Committee for the past four years. Her pas research has focused on finding alternative solutions to protracted camp placements and the viability and sustainability of multilingual national policies. Grace hopes that her time at CCAS will allow her to utilize lessons from those former experiences and focus on how education can be used as a tool in development work in the region.

Mabrook Grace! Thank you to everyone who donated and made the scholarship possible!

-Biography courtesy of Georgetown University

Announcing the 2017 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient, Ghadeer Awwad

The 2017-2018 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Ghadeer Awwad. Congratulations Ghadeer! 

Photo courtesy of Twitter

About Ghadeer

Ms. Ghadeer Awwad is the 2017-2018 Recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Endowed Memorial Scholarship at Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Arab Studies (MAAS) program. Ghadeer is originally from Nablus, Palestine and graduated from Earlham College in 2016. Her research interests at MAAS include women’s empowerment, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and human rights, and Palestinian society under Israeli occupation.

At the age of sixteen, Ghadeer Awwad was selected to represent her home country of Palestine at Pearson United World College in Canada, a two-year, pre-university school for students from over 100 countries who live, study and learn together while pursuing the International Baccalaureate. Leaving home at a young age allowed Ghadeer to expand her horizons and develop her identity as a Palestinian Arab woman. After graduating from Pearson College, Ghadeer joined the Union of Palestinian Women Committees as a member and volunteer in Nablus, Palestine. Being part of UPWC provided Ghadeer the opportunity to work closely with women from her own society and to contribute in the national struggle to establish an independent Palestinian State. In addition, hearing women voice their experiences showed Ghadeer the need to take a more critical approach to addressing gender issues in her community.

Following her work in Palestine, Ghadeer returned to North America to attend Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. At Earlham, Ghadeer double-majored in International Studies and Human Development, a combination that enabled her to study public policy with an eye toward issues of social justice. Ghadeer focused her academic research on truth recovery and transitional justice in post-conflict societies and on Palestinian women’s engagement in national resistance movements. During her undergraduate career Ghadeer took a gap semester to work with the Drama, Diversity, and Development project (DDD), which uses culture to promote diversity and challenge discrimination against minorities in the MENA region. Working with DDD provided Ghadeer with further opportunities to engage with women activists and civil-society experts fighting for equality in the MENA region.

Ghadeer aspires to work in the advocacy field and to continue working alongside disadvantaged women in areas affected by war and conflict, such as her native Palestine. To achieve this goal, Ghadeer plans to concentrate her graduate work in the MAAS program on women and development in the MENA region.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible!

-Biography courtesy of Georgetown University

Announcing the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship Recipient, Samah Asfour

The 2016-2017 recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship is Samah Asfour. Congratulations Samah! 

Photo by Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

Photo by Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

Born to Palestinian immigrant parents, Samah Asfour tailored her educational and career goals to reflect her Arab identity. At the University at Buffalo, Samah majored in Political Science and Global Gender Studies and minored in French.

To advance her language skills, Samah studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. While there, she began conducting research for her honors thesis topic on the discrimination against Muslim women in France and their counter-public spheres.

Dedicated to alleviating poverty in the developing world, Samah co-founded an organization on campus under the mission to promote female education as a tool of empowerment. After graduating magna cum laude in May 2015, Samah embarked on a Fulbright assignment in Amman, Jordan where she lectured at Jordan Applied University.

During her year teaching business English and tourism English courses, Samah found time to improve her Modern Standard Arabic by taking classes at both the Qasid Institute and Ahlan Jordan. Samah volunteered with Madrasati, A Queen Rania Initiative, where she created and implemented interactive English games for elementary education.

As the first recipient of the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Endowed Scholarship, Samah plans to concentrate her graduate work on women and gender in the MENA region. She hopes to gain more knowledge on Arab-American identity, Islamic feminism, and women’s roles in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible!


Samah and volunteers at the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls in Amman, Jordan.

Samah and volunteers at the 2016 Nina Brekelmans Race for Girls in Amman, Jordan.

Nina's Memorial Design Spotlight: Kelly Kurkjian

By Kelly Kurkjian, originally posted on the Craft Room

Last June, my cousin Nina passed away in a house fire. Nina was a beautiful soul with incredible journey ahead of her. Months after her passing, one of Nina’s best friends, Mary Grace, started to organize a 5K in her memory. As soon as I had found out of these plans, I wanted to get involved. I volunteered to design whatever was needed for the 5K.

I knew right after volunteering that this would be the most meaningful design job I’ve ever worked on. Nina was a passionate runner, who took that passion to the Middle East to help improve the lives of young women through running and athletics. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to help continue Nina’s legacy and passion by volunteering my very own passion of design.

Mary Grace, Lizzie (another one of Nina’s best friends) and I worked together to establish the logo for the race and memorial website. We experimented with many designs, but ultimately landed on a strong, bold typeface to represent her strength. We included Nina’s silhouette as well in order to represent her doing what she loved. A translation of the race name is shown in Arabic at the bottom of the logo to represent her passion for the language and connection to the people she loved in Jordan.

Once we established the logo, we kicked into full gear to make all the assets needed to make the race a success. Posters, race maps, t-shirts, and race bibs were just a selection of the things we put together for race day.

After months and months of planning and designing for the race, it had finally arrived! I can’t express the feeling of having all my family together to honor and celebrate Nina’s life and legacy. It was also finally time to meet Mary Grace, someone I had worked so closely with for months. Seeing everyone together in their bright orange shirts was emotionally overwhelming, but put the biggest smile on my face.

There have also been many extensions of the memorial identity we created, including a logo for the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls in Amman, Jordan. This camp was established in Nina’s name to continue her vision of building confidence and leadership among young women in Jordan. Check out the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls Facebook Page for updates and pictures!

I couldn’t be more honored to have created a visual identity for Nina’s legacy with Mary Grace. I am so thankful to be a part of such an incredible initiative.

Check out the Nina Brekelmans Memorial website to learn about Nina, the Memorial Scholarship 5K, Legacy Projects, Tributes, and Fire Safety.

I love you Nina, and think of you always.


DC Fire Victim Honored With Memorial 5K in Georgetown

By Andrea Swalec

A young woman killed in a house fire near Dupont Circle last year was a dedicated runner who studied Arabic at Georgetown University. In her honor, 200 people ran a race starting on the school's campus Saturday morning to help fund an Arab Studies scholarship in her name.

Nina Brekelmans, 25, died June 3, 2015, after the house on the 1600 block of Riggs Place NW in which she rented a room caught fire overnight. According to a $10 million lawsuit filed by her family, Brekelmans was trapped in her third-floor room because her windows were stuck closed and her room had no fire escape.

The Dartmouth College graduate had recently earned a master's degree in Arab Studies from Georgetown and was headed to the Middle East as a Fulbright scholar to research female runners in Jordan, combining two of her passions, family members and friends said.

"Nina was one of the kindest, most genuine people that you'll ever meet," said Mary Grace Pellegrini, who grew up with Brekelmans in Louisville and organized the 5K.

Pellegrini, 26, asked runners to keep her Georgetown Running Club teammate in mind as they ran the course that passed through some of her favorite places, including along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath.

"Think of her when you're on the towpath this morning," Pellegrini said before the runners took off.

Brekelmans' parents, Nico and Gail Brekelmans, were among the runners who woke early on a cold Saturday morning. They, like dozens of others, wore neon orange T-shirts printed with "Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship 5K" printed in English and Arabic.

"It's just wonderful everyone is here for Nina," Brekelmans' father said after he finished the race -- his first -- to huge cheers. "It's really helping us."

Top honors went to Phil Royer, who graduated from Dartmouth with Brekelmans. He finished the winding course in 16:56.

The Brekelmans, who flew in from Shanghai, announced that after the race, the scholarship in their daughter's name to the university's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies had been fully funded.

"As long as Georgetown is around, there will be a named scholarship," Nico Brekelmans said.

Funds raised from the race contributed about $10,000 to the fund, Pellegrini said.

And as runners hit the pavement in D.C., another group ran in Brekelmans' honor more than 5,000 miles away. A group of girls in Amman, Jordan, ran Saturday with the Nina Brekelmans Running Camp for Girls. The group was created to carry out Brekelmans' vision outlined in her Fulbright proposal to promote girls' health and boost their self-esteem.

The house fire that killed Brekelmans also killed Michael McLoughlin, 24, who had rented a room on the same floor. He was a Maryland native who worked for an insurance company in Bethesda and had an infectious laugh, friends and family members told The Washington Post.

Lawyers for the building's owner, Len Salas, say in court documents that the electrical fire could not have been prevented.

Brekelmans would have been 26 this month.

"Nina was a wonderful person," her father said.

"She knew exactly what she wanted to do," he added before saying he could not go on.

Nina Brekelmans Memorial Scholarship 5K Race Recap

By Dickson Mercer of GRC

March 19, 2016

Nina's father, Nico, made everyone laugh at the post-race ceremony this morning when he joked: "It's easy to organize a race, right? It's very easy to do." The Nina Brekelman's Memorial Scholarship 5k (results here), as Nico himself pointed out, was orchestrated by more than 70 GRC members. It was a short race, yet it was a marathon's worth of work led by Mary Grace, who in turn had huge assists from Lindsay and many others.

The idea for this race, as we know, was born out of tragedy. As it came together, though, it quickly grew into more than a memorial race, but really a demonstration that Nina's family, friends, and teammates were going to carry Nina's work forward. Nina's spirit would very literally live on, pushed forwarded by many, including two organizations that were particularly inspired by her: GRC, her running club, and Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), where Nina earned her masters' degree; from runners, to scholars, to young women in Amman, Jordan, where she was a Harvard University Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) Fellow.

Nina, as Coach said today, was passionate:  "She was not the most talented runner on our team," he said in his remarks, "but she had a level of talent and desire that was truly exceptional."

And running was only part of it. Nina was committed to community engagement on a global scale. Dr. Joel Hellman, dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, which includes the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), put it like this: 

"We're in a really unusual moment … where you start to see our politicians turning inward. … And it's all the more important that we here at Georgetown, in School of Foreign Services, are moving in the opposite direction, looking outward … 

"Nina was the perfect example of that."

Nina's former Dartmouth teammates, Phil Royer and Hannah Rowe, both represented GRC and won their respective races. 

Nina's parents, on the other hand, Nico and Gail, who live in Shanghai, both ran their first 5k. They arrived in D.C. on Thursday, and were joined at the race by their son and Nina's brother, Rob, who lives in London, and many members of their extended family.

Nico said they were still pretty tired from the travel. "But it's worth every minute to see this and everybody coming out for Nina. Nina's friends have been just amazing - all the things they're doing. They're making a lot of things happen. And it's wonderful. It's really helping us cope with it."

Reflections on the towpath

About 200 runners gathered this morning on GU's Copley Lawn, many wearing the official race T-shirt designed by Nina's cousin, Kelly Kurkjian. The course took them on paths around the campus, with a segment on the towpath in between. And as NBC reported, Mary Grace advised race participants to use that time on the towpath to remember Nina. 

Three runners who ran with Nina at Dartmouth did exactly that.

John Schroeder, of D.C., who finished 2nd, running most of the race solo, said: "I thought about Nina, and thought about how she enjoyed running. It was a good way to remember her." He added that Nina was the only runner at Dartmouth who had earned a spot on the team as a walk-on, through sheer hard work. "It's really hard to do. It's not something I've heard of anyone doing before I got there and since I've left."

Phil, cruising to victory, looked out from the towpath and was pleased to see there were some rowers cheering for him. (Rowing, as Phil pointed out, was yet another one of Nina's passions.)

And when Hannah crossed the line, the GRC-Dartmouth sweep was complete. "I was hurting," she said, "and I honestly did think about [Nina]." 

When the going got tough, in fact, Hannah remembered Nina's distinct running form. "t's not perfect running form," she said, "but everything was driving so hard, and you knew she was putting everything into it. It just motivated me, thinking about her: just drive my arms."

Always Nina

Nina had been awarded a Fulbright fellowship. She would have been in Jordan last fall to conduct research on female distance runners and continue her studies. 

One of her big goals, as part of that, was to establish a girls running camp there. Today, with the help of current Fulbright students, 15 girls in Jordan were participating in the first ever such camp. 

There was also the idea of a scholarship.

After Nina passed, "the idea of an endowed scholarship in Nina's name was a real balm to our wounded spirits," said Osama Abi-Mershed, the director of CCAS. 

Well, that goal reached the finish line this morning too. 

Thanks to Nico's and Gail's efforts, which were supported by Nico's company, Cooper Standard, and thanks to race proceeds, Georgetown will now offer a fully-funded endowed scholarship to support students who share Nina's passion of supporting women's empowerment in the Middle East.  

"It is here as long as Georgetown, as long as the Center, is here," Rania Kiblawi, CCAS Associate Director, said.

Nina, as we have been saying - as we will continue to say - lives on.