2021 KGSP Pre-Departure Programming


This year, the KAUST Gifted Student Program (KGSP) organized Pre-Departure Programming (PDP) to welcome and prepare Cohort 13 to the KGSP. The PDP serves as an important resource and virtual gathering hub for new students before they journey to the US to begin their Foundation Year or undergraduate studies.

Like last year’s Virtual Program Orientation, the PDP was held virtually for students, KGSP staff, KAUST faculty, and Leadership; however, it was extended beyond a singular event to several weeks of programming with two sessions per week, beginning on June 28th and ending on August 17th. The 2021 PDP utilized video conferencing to facilitate over 21 event sessions and the mobile app Whova to provide a platform for students to communicate with their peers. This virtual format and extended timeline of programmatic events provided an excellent opportunity for KGSP alumni, KAUST faculty, current KGSP students, and KGSP team members to participate in PDP sessions and provide a new cohort of students with the attention and support they need to thrive.

The PDP encouraged Cohort 13 students, now part of the Program, to not only recognize their unique opportunity through the KGSP as they strive to achieve their academic goals and career aspirations, but to begin to view themselves as future KAUST graduate students and innovative leaders who will make positive contributions to the development and growth of Saudi Arabia.

In her welcoming remarks Sarah Smith, KAUST’s Acting Director of Youth and Talent Development, expressed, “We are all so excited to begin working with you all and to learn more about you as individuals, your hopes and dreams for the future and how we at KAUST and the KGSP can be part of helping you along your path to achieving them.”

The new students were encouraged to focus on four principles guiding content throughout the PDP: Community Building, Self-Awareness and Resilience, Academic Capacity Strengthening, and Scholarship Engagement.

                                    PDP Group Screenshot
                                                                    PDP Group Screenshot                                                                                                      

Community Building

A hallmark of the KGSP is its extensive community, comprised of its students, alumni, and staff. Although the community is located throughout the United States and Saudi Arabia, the KGSP brought many of its members together to be present for the benefit of the new cohort. Through community building exercises, new students can see not only how great a support network the KGSP is, but also how it can be utilized throughout the many stages of their academic career and time within the KGSP. Sessions were also attended by nine Peer Student Guides (PSGs), current KGSP students who were given a leadership role supporting the onboarding of Cohort 13, assisting in the implementation of the event and providing their personal stories to the relevant sessions.

The inclusion of KGSP Alumni in the PDP provided invaluable first-hand experience from those who have successfully completed the Program, sharing how it impacted their academic and professional aspirations. KGSP Alumni Mayyada Hawsawi of Cohort 2 (M.S. Electrical Engineering) and Mohammed Alsobay of Cohort 3 (M.S. Applied Mathematics and Computational Science) were part of an Alumni Reflection session hosted by Alumni Lead, Matthew Guckenberg, that was greatly appreciated by the new students, prompting many great student questions for discussion.

                                  PDP Alumni Panel
                                                                        PDP Alumni Panel

Self-Awareness and Resilience

Now part of dynamic academic community, Cohort 13 students are creating their own path of academic excellence and figuring out their unique position in the KGSP.  As part of the PDP, the new students received User Manuals to provide a useful tool to write down important lessons they learned, but also for them to begin personalizing their KGSP journey. Students were encouraged to write their preferences, values, quirks, and growth areas in their manual so they could share it with their KGSP Advisor once they were introduced at the end of the PDP. Understanding the expectations of the KGSP and aligning them with their personal development will maximize their ability to excel in the Program and their academic studies in the US.  With the KGSP’s experienced support and extensive community, Cohort 13 can confidently pursue their education and achieve their personal and professional goals.

Academic Capacity Strengthening

Essential aspects of the KGSP’s Advising, Enrichment, and Placement programs were presented by KGSP staff to Cohort 13. Sessions ended with a short quiz to ensure that students retained valuable lessons imparted to them. In addition, Cohort 13 participated in writing support and coaching, SAT/TOEFL prep, focused webinars, and resume building workshops to reinforce the necessary skills and best practices needed to have a successful KGSP experience.

Scholarship Engagement

In addition to KAUST faculty research presentations, in which students could meet KAUST faculty and learn of the technical and in-depth aspects of ongoing research, six KAUST faculty members also participated in Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions. This new type of session gave students a more informal opportunity to learn about the educational backgrounds and journeys of faculty members who shared advice on how to hone skills and interests, pursue passions, and make the best of the opportunities that the KGSP and KAUST offer. “You may not know today what your career [is] or what you want it to be, but if you find something that really excites you, don’t be shy about following that and trying it out,” stated Michael L. Berumen, Professor of Marine Science and Director of the Red Sea Research Center.
                                Dr. Michael Berumen during Ask Me Any Anything Session
                             Michael Berumen during Ask Me Any Anything Session

The PDP concluded with an interactive escape room activity, reinforcing the importance of team building and communication, recognizing one’s strengths, and applying lessons learned from the PDP.

In the PDP’s closing message, Dr. Najah Ashry, Senior Associate to the President and Vice President of Strategic National Advancement, welcomed the new KGSP students, “Congratulations to you all. You have been selected for a very prestigious program that comes with a lot of responsibilities. However, you will enjoy the ride.” Following her remarks, a video featuring four current KGSP students and four KGSP alumni was shared; participants shared advice based on their KGSP journey and the wonderful memories and experiences they had within the Program.

To conclude, Sarah Smith congratulated the students for reaching the end of the PDP, “You identified the positive aspects of a virtual pre-departure orientation and then adopted it to make it not just work but work better. And this ability to find opportunity within a challenge is a key element for successful KGSP students, so I was really thrilled to see that flourish amongst you all.” The skills and lessons that Cohort 13 learned will contribute to their success as students in the US and help prepare them for a scholarship and experience unlike any other as new members of the KGSP community.