Student Spotlight with Aya Saed

Aya Saed

Mark Stehle

NUBIAN KINGDOM: Senior Aya Saed, 21, is Sudanese but was born in Saudi Arabia. An international relations major, she grew up in Riyadh, Annandale, Va., and Washington, D.C.

MATCH MADE: A first-generation college student, Saed says Penn chose her. “I had a fascination with Penn since sophomore year,” she says. “I thought it was a great combo of being in an urban environment and actually making use of that in its research, and in its work in the community. Ultimately, I ended up being a QuestBridge Scholar and was matched with Penn, so it just kind of worked out.”

YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE: Saed spent the summer after her freshman year in Spain and Morocco studying Arabic and researching alternative currencies. After her sophomore year, she visited Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Israel, and the Palestinian territories as an Ibrahim Fellow. Last summer, she taught middle school in Ghana through Penn Engineering’s International Development Summer Institute, and she was in Sudan over the winter break conducting research for her thesis. “I have four years here and I thought I’m going to get as much out of it as I can,” she says.

GOOGLE IS A PLUS: For the past two summers, Saed has interned at Google. She says increasing internet access to underserved areas is her passion. “When I was looking at colleges, if it wasn’t for the fact that I could Google everything and anything about everything that I saw, I would not be here,” she says. “The internet became my access into the Ivy League and all these scholarship programs.”

GROWING PAINS: Saed previously served as a columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian. She says the experience—although sometimes painful because of the backlash to her pieces—taught her a lot about herself and helped her personal growth. “I didn’t really take my writing that seriously before,” she says.

POWER LUNCH: As a member of UMOJA and the Sphinx Senior Society, Saed has had several lunches with President Amy Gutmann. “I think she’s amazing,” she says. “She actually sang to me and bought me a cake for my last birthday.”

SIBLING PREFERENCE: Saed says she is trying hard to sell Penn to her two younger sisters. “I buy them Penn gear every birthday.” She says the University offers vital support to disadvantaged students. “[Penn] provides all the resources that I ever needed,” she says. “And it’s a stimulating environment. I get a high off of going to a lot of these classes because they’re so interesting. What more can you want?”

SOUTHEAST ASIA: After graduation, Saed hopes to use her Luce Scholarship to spend a year in Malaysia either working at a think tank or in journalism. “There’s a huge Sudanese community in Malaysia that I think would be cool to tap into,” she says.

Originally published on April 18, 2013