Staff & Advisors


KGSP has an exceptional team of staff and advisors with a broad range of expertise in higher-education. Their role is to assist KGSP students both academically and personally throughout their time with the program.



Vice President for Saudi Affairs, Dr. Najah Ashry, KSA

Dr. Najah Ashry is Vice President of Saudi Initiatives organization at KAUST and was the founder of the organization.  She previously served as Assistant Provost for Student Affairs at KAUST and Dean of the female section at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.  Dr. Ashry has also served as Vice Dean of Admissions and Registration, deputy director of the Information Technology Center, and chairwoman of the Accounting Department. She participated in numerous strategic and executive committees and boards at the University and in Saudi Arabia.  Dr. Ashry earned a doctorate in Management Information Systems and a Postgraduate Diploma in Research Methods from the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom. She obtained a bachelor‘s in Computer Science (magna cum laude) and a master‘s in Business Administration from Seattle University in the United States.


 Director, KGSP and Undergraduate Initiatives, Saham Al-Husseini, KSA


Saham Al-Husseini is the Director of the KAUST Gifted Student Program. As director, he oversees all aspects of the program, from student selection, undergraduate placement, advising and student support, enrichment, and development, student services, policy, and operations. Saham's role with KGSP follows other significant leadership positions at KAUST. His experience comes from holding positions in both academic and non-academic administration, mainly in the Registrar Office, Admissions and Enrollment, Advanced Placement, Strategic Relations, Project Management, and Operational Oversight.



Assistant Director, Sarah Smith, USA 

Sarah Smith provides oversight for the monitoring, reporting, and programmatic development of the KAUST Gifted Student Program from the United States, and advises on KGSP policy and communication strategies overall. Ms. Smith joined KAUST in 2009, previously serving as Policy and Scholarships Lead for the Graduate Affairs department in Saudi Arabia. Prior to KAUST, Ms. Smith was a teacher and held various positions in the field of education policy. Ms. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and a Master’s of Public Policy degree from Georgetown University.

Deputy Head of Advising and Development, Nabila R. Hammouda, USA

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Nabila works closely with the KGSP team on all programmatic areas and coordinates with the Saudi Cultural Mission. Prior to joining KAUST in 2008, Nabila worked on a number of student and professional exchange programs, including the State Department’s Fulbright and Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship programs, and served as a Business Development Manager at the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council. Nabila is a former Fulbright Scholar. She holds a master’s in Arab Studies with a Business Concentration and a Certificate in International Business Diplomacy from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. She also has a master’s in English from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree in ESL and Teacher Training from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Tunisia.

  Academic Development Specialist, Saudi Affairs, Walid Abediseid, KSA 

Walid Abediseid works as an academic development specialist for Young Talent Development programs at Saudi Affairs. In 2014, he joined the Saudi Research Science Institute (SRSI) to help the team in managing all academic and non-academic aspects of the program. In October 2016, he joined the KAUST Gifted Student Program (KGSP) where he is responsible in monitoring and reviewing the academic performance of students, and managing the admission process. Walid completed his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2011, from the University of Waterloo, Canada. He joined KAUST in 2011 as a postdoctoral fellow in Electrical Engineering, where he conducted intensive research in the field of Digital and Wireless Communications. He also worked as an instructor for Mathematical Engineering courses at both foundation and graduate levels. Walid earned a bachelor's and master's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Ottawa, Canada.

 Stacy Bissette Senior Scholarship Officer

Stacy Bissette joined the KGSP team in August 2017 as a Senior Scholarship Officer in KSA.  Stacy monitors the KGSP team projects related to students’ academic and professional development in the U.S. and KSA.  She is also involved in the planning of orientation and other KSA based activities.  Prior to arriving at KAUST, Stacy worked as a Senior International Student Advisor (DSO/ARO) at North Carolina State University.  She holds a Master’s Degree from NC State University in International Studies and a Bachelors in Communications from the University of Evansville. 



 Erica du Toit – Academic Project Coordinator 

Erica joined the KGSP team in 2014. Her role is to support the summer enrichment program at KAUST. Erica is also involved in the KAUST KGSP mentorship program. Erica is a Chartered Accountant with a Masters’ degree in International Accounting. Prior to working at KAUST, Erica was a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg for eleven years.







All our advisors are highly qualified and experienced. Advisors assist students in their transition to the United States, provide academic advice, and serve as a general point of contact for the students throughout their KGSP experience.


Jeff Mervosh - KGSP Lead


Jeff has been part of the KGSP team since 2014. He brought over seven years of higher education and student development experience to KGSP, having most recently worked in advising and academic development and led international student and internship programming at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. As Lead for the US-based KGSP staff, Jeff coordinates scholarship administration, student professional and academic support, and special projects. Jeff previously served as an Advising Lead and greatly enjoys personally meeting and following the careers of as many KGSP students and alumni as he can. Jeff earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and International Studies from Denison University and a Master of Arts degree in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.


Shannon Gibson – Senior Advisor


Shannon joined the KAUST Gifted Student Program in 2014. Her passion for working with international students and diverse populations developed after studying abroad as an undergraduate student at Union College. After graduating with a B.A. in Sociology, Shannon moved to Portland, Oregon and spent nearly four years working for AFS Intercultural Programs; a high school study abroad program. While there, Shannon served as a program advisor for interested students and their families. Shannon later moved to San Francisco and received a Master’s Degree in International and Multicultural Education from the University of San Francisco. Before joining KGSP, Shannon managed the student services department at Kaplan International English. She served as the Designated School Official and oversaw initiatives, such as a student activity program and the college pathways program. Shannon has also volunteered in numerous countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Philippines.


Meghan Perry Powell – Senior Advisor 


Meghan joined KGSP in the fall of 2016 with eight years in higher education administration experience, three of which were focused on international education. In prior positions, she supervised international student workers in the international office, managed the university's study abroad program, and coordinated international student orientation programs. In her undergraduate program, Meghan studied abroad in South Africa. Meghan holds a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration from Texas A&M University and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from Allegheny College.

Shannon Plath – Senior Advisor
Shannon has worked in international education since 2006 with programs at UC Berkeley and the San Francisco Art Institute. She is a proven leader in the field of international education, with ongoing professional involvement with NAFSA, the Forum on Education Abroad, the Northern California Education Abroad Association, and the Bay Area International Educators Association. Shannon received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1999 and her Master of Arts degree in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont in 2006.



Ryan Brevard – Student Advisor


Ryan Brevard joined KGSP in June 2015 after working as an advisor and teacher in international education for the previous five years. Prior to joining KGSP, Ryan spent two years living and working in Saudi Arabia as the Academic Program Director and ESL Professor for the Jeddah College of Excellence. Ryan also spent a year living and teaching ESL in the Palestinian refugee camp of Bourj Al Barajneh in Beirut, Lebanon. After graduating from Western Michigan University with a B.S. in Education Ryan worked for 2 years in the AmeriCorps program serving the American Red Cross where he taught CPR and first-aid courses as well as responding to national disasters throughout the United States. Ryan has a passion for education and enjoys traveling whenever he gets the opportunity.




Casey Bulen - Student Advisor


Casey joined the KGSP team in June 2017, after serving as a Residential Counselor with the Missouri Academy, where he advised a diverse group of high-achieving STEM students through their two years in the program. It was in this role that he developed a passion for advising and working with students from diverse cultures. In addition, Casey has experience as an Instructor of Geology at Kansas State University and Northwest Missouri State University, where he primarily taught introductory geology courses. Casey received a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwest Missouri State and Master’s Degree from Kansas State, both in Geology. Casey is an avid sport, music and movies fan, and can often be found immersed in those interests. He is often described as a man of many passions and interests, and looks forward to those passions continuing to grow throughout his career with the KGSP!

Sonya Chaudhry- Student Advisor

Sonya joined the KGSP team in 2017. Sonya is a social worker by training and her professional experiences have centered around supporting vulnerable youth and using education as a means towards success and independence. Prior to joining the KGSP team, Sonya maintained her connection to education by working on mentoring and fundraising initiatives with the Spark Program and sharing college tips with students in the Global Glimpse program. Sonya has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Stanford University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Chicago. She has had the great fortune to study abroad in Italy, Spain, India, and China. She also worked in Ghana supporting the local Department of Social Welfare. Sonya makes it a goal to leave the US at least once a year and eat her way through new cultures. Sonya is excited to learn from her new colleagues and support students in their success with KGSP!

Cynthia Cox- Student Advisor

Cynthia Cox joined the KGSP Team in October 2017. Her role is to advise undergraduate students at UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and Stanford University. She began her career in international education by teaching in Kenya and France, and then took a role as an International Student Advisor at Oregon State University, where she worked for seven years. She received a Bachelor’s degree in German from California State University, Chico, and a Master’s degree in Linguistics from the University at Buffalo.

Denice Crawford- Student Advisor 

Denice was thrilled to join the KGSP team as a Student Advisor in April 2018. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a B.A. in Sociology, she followed her passion for education, culture, and service by serving two terms as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in the U.S. and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria. She went on to teach English in South Korea for 3.5 years and has since taught and led language and cultural programming in higher education in both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to support international students in their language and professional development. Denice loves connecting others to the resources, cultural knowledge, and people they need to become leaders in international contexts. She holds an M.S.Ed. in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education from Indiana University and an M.A. in Teaching Speakers of Other Languages from Southern Illinois University. As an avid lifelong learner, she can be found exploring museums and cultural events in her free time and is pursuing a graduate certificate from the School of Education & Social Policy at Northwestern University. 

Kristin Franco - Student Advisor

Kristin Franco is a KGSP Advisor based in Washington D.C. and is originally from Pennsylvania. She has an undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University. In her previous positions, she has counseled recent college graduates preparing to teach in China through the Amerson Foundation and also acted as an inbound international student counselor with the Up with People program. She most recently worked with the Fulbright Visiting Scholars program. Kristin is thrilled to be a member of the KGSP team.



Matthew Guckenberg - Student Advisor


Matthew recently joined KGSP with over 4 years of experience working with international education and students from the Middle East and North Africa. Previously Matthew worked with the Fulbright Foreign Student Program for the Middle East and North Africa. Matthew has spent time in many places in the Middle East and lived in Egypt while attending the American University in Cairo. Matthew earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from the University of Mary Washington and a Master of Arts in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.

Emily Hagemeister – Student Advisor


Emily joined KGSP in 2012 with over seven years of experience in educational administration.  Emily worked as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at the Abdul Hamid Sharaf School in Amman, Jordan.  After her Fulbright, she also served as Resident Advisor for the Critical Language Scholarship Program Arabic institute in Amman.  Before joining KGSP, Emily worked with the University of Missouri International Center as an Exchange Student and Study Abroad Advisor and the Critical Language Scholarship Program as the Program Officer for the Arabic language institutes, advising both international and U.S. students. She received both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Sciences degrees in Anthropology, along with a certificate in College Teaching, from North Dakota State University.



Ted Helms - Student Advisor

Ted initially joined the KGSP team in August 2016 after nearly three years of working on a diverse portfolio of international education programs.  Originally from Southern Connecticut, he graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts with a degree in Political Science and began his career in international education by teaching ESL in Ukraine and Russia for three years.  After his return, he began working on the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program providing visa sponsorship and advising services to Brazilian students studying in the United States.  He currently works from the Denver office and enjoys a wide range of outdoor activities in his spare time.



Amina Khan – Student Advisor


Amina brings over 6 years of experience in the field of international education to the KGSP Advising team. After an internship with the U.S. Embassy of Iraq, Amina joined IIE and worked on the Fulbright Scholar Program for the Middle East and North Africa region. Continuing on at IIE, Amina transitioned to a program that provides critical language and culture training for ROTC students and Department of Defense personnel. She graduated from The George Washington University and teaches ESL to Syrian refugees in her free time.





Lauren Lewis - Student Advisor


Lauren joined the San Francisco KGSP team in June 2017. After earning her Bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies with a concentration on Japan from Wellesley College, she joined the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program. She was an Assistant Language teacher in Japan for three years. After the JET Program, she was an online English Conversation teacher before attending the University of San Francisco (USF) to earn her Master’s Degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. At USF, Lauren was the graduate assistant in the Learning Center and worked closely with the Office of Student Conduct, Residential Life, Student Leadership and Engagement, and the International Student Scholar Services (ISSS) office. Lauren is also from a U.S. Navy family and has moved a total of 14 times. During her spare time, she likes catching the latest movie releases in theaters and sightseeing throughout the Bay.

Mohammad Arif Mujaddedi - Student Advisor

Mohammad Arif Mujaddedi joined KGSP in September 2015 and brings over 8 years of experience in student advising and educational exchange programs management. In his last work, he has served as an International Student Advisor and DSO at the Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, VA. During his time with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for seven years, Mohammad has held roles as the EducationUSA Advisor, and Fulbright Program Manager, where he managed all the U.S. government-sponsored educational exchange programs including the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarships, the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, FLTA and other short-term exchange programs. Mohammad graduated from Kabul University, Afghanistan in 2005 with a B.A. in English Language and Literature. After graduation, he was awarded the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant scholarship at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he studied for the academic year 2006-2007and, served as a language teaching assistant for his native languages at the Center for Language of Central Asian Region (CeLCAR).



Huzaifa Potia - Student Advisor

Huzaifa joined the KGSP team in April 2018 with over three years of experience in education administration.  Originally from Mumbai, India, he graduated as an international student from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in Business Management. During college, Huzaifa worked with the TRiO Upward Bound Student Services advising and tutoring first-generation college students across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. After a brief role in finance, Huzaifa moved back to India where he spent three years mentoring students who were applying to universities in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Singapore. Huzaifa is based in KGSP’s Houston office and is eager to share the experiences he had as an international student with the KGSP students. 

Zaria Qadafi - Student Advisor
Zaria Qadafi joined the KGSP team as a Student Advisor in the summer of 2017, following over a decade of work in the field of international education. She has worked in Brazil, Paraguay, Vietnam, and the USA, acting in the capacity of the program director, teacher, curriculum developer, and advisor for various schools and organizations.  She especially enjoyed her recent role as the director of an English language and integration program for Brazilian diplomats in which she facilitated the relocation, acclimation and English language acquisition process for officers and their families. She is also the creator of a website dedicated to helping teachers and students of English as a Second Language. Zaria is a life-long lover of literature and linguistics and holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from the University of Missouri.



Susanna Renfrow – Student Advisor

Susanna recently joined KGSP, bringing over 3 years of experience working with undergraduate students and international visitors to the U.S. She is a KGSP advisor based in Denver, Colorado. Susanna grew up overseas, living and traveling in Germany, Japan, and England, before moving back to the U.S. to earn an undergraduate degree from Colorado State University. While at Colorado State University, she worked for 2 years as a Resident Advisor to first-year college students, sparking her passion to work with university students. She most recently worked on the International Visitor Leadership Program, a U.S. Department of a State-sponsored professional exchange program with international visitors from across the world. During her free time, Susanna enjoys reading, knitting, and playing with her pets.  

Corissa Wandmacher- Student Advisor

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Corissa joined KGSP in June 2015 after serving as the KAUST Foundation Year Coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin for two years. Corissa brings over a decade of experience in the field of international education and she worked abroad four of these years. She spent two years in South Korea managing International Relations and recruiting students for an international business school and two years in Chile teaching English, developing a national English language initiative, and leading teacher training for the Ministry of Education, English Opens Door Program. Corissa earned her Master's in Higher Education Administration from the University of Texas at Austin and her Bachelors' in Early Childhood Education from Texas A&M University. Corissa loves traveling and has been to over 16 countries. She hopes to have the opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia in the near future!