Most students graduate from college when they are 21 or 22. For Amir Aziz, that’s when he began college as a member of the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute for International Studies.
Of course, not many Ole Miss students serve in the Singapore Armed Forces before beginning their college careers.
Now 26, Aziz is continuing his studies this fall at the University of Texas, where he is pursuing a doctorate in French as a recipient of a prestigious Portz Scholarship. The scholarships are given to only four honors students nationwide each year by the National Collegiate Honors Council.
While fulfilling his duty to his country, Aziz saw the movie “The Blind Side,” which is what led him to consider UM.
“I would have never heard of the university if I hadn’t (seen the movie) because in Singapore, people kept telling me to apply to Ivy League institutions,” Aziz said. “I hadn’t really considered going to a public university until I looked up Ole Miss on the Internet. I was looking for a school that had a top-ranked honors program and that offered international studies and Arabic as majors, and I discovered Ole Miss had it all.”
Aziz applied to the university and was accepted into both the Croft Institute and the Honors College, which also awarded him a Donald S. Pichitino Scholarship. He packed his bags and headed for Mississippi, even though he knew little about the state.
“It has been four years since then, and I have not looked back,” he recalled. “I have enjoyed every moment in Oxford and forged long-lasting connections with people there.”
Aziz double majored in international studies and French with a minor in Arabic. In addition, he was installed as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was chosen to receive a Taylor Medal. His thesis, “Al-Arabiyyah, Le Français and the Soul of Algeria: The Language Tango between Arabic and French in Algerian Education Policy and Defining Post-Colonial Algerian National Identity,” was selected as the best thesis in the Middle East region by the Croft Institute.
“Amir’s thesis was a unique and important contribution to several fields, not least Middle Eastern and European Studies,” said Vivian Ibrahim, a Croft associate professor of Middle Eastern history who taught Aziz in several classes at UM and advised his Croft Institute-Honors College thesis. She called Aziz “one of the very strongest students” in his classes.
For his thesis, Aziz examined Algeria’s language policy and its impact on the education system, a daunting topic because Algeria is a difficult place to conduct field work and find reliable sources. However, Aziz was persistent, Ibrahim said.
“Even as an undergraduate with limited research time, Amir found ways to unearth the information and present a truly comprehensive picture,” she said. “Utilizing his excellent command of both Arabic and French, Amir conducted fieldwork interviewing over 200 Algerian youths in the capital city, Algiers, over the winter break of 2014. He presented a complex picture of how the Algerian government’s policy of Arabisation has led an education system in flux.
“Overall, he displayed the deep commitment to serious research that we wish all our students had. He did not settle for easy or partial answers. Add to this his attention to detail and his ability to join disparate pieces of evidence into one line of argument, and it becomes clear that Amir is exceptional.”
Soon after Aziz presented his thesis, the Honors College nominated him for the Portz Scholarship. In August, Aziz learned that he had won and will be presenting his work at the 2015 National Conference of NCHC, set for November in Chicago.
Aziz has fond memories of his time at Ole Miss.
“I always looked forward to taking Honors College classes each semester. The highlights of my college career have taken place in honors classes with some of my most favorite professors: Dr. Ann Fisher-Wirth in the honors American literature survey, Dr. Robert Brown in Honors 101 and Dr. Donald Dyer in Honors Conversations. The Honors College is like a second home to me.”
At Texas, Aziz’s concentration is in international law and human rights, with the goal of having a career at the United Nations.
Courtesy UM Communications