Arabic major finds natural fit in United Palestinian Appeal internship

Shelby Toler.
October 29, 2013

In her quest for a career direction, Shelby Toler sampled several majors – Biochemistry among them – and listened to the advice of experts, but it was her internship with the United Palestinian Appeal that gave her a crystal-clear view to a future.

“This internship inspired me to want to pursue career opportunities outside of my original goals,” said the senior from Columbia, Md., who expanded her notion of applying her major in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies to working for the government. “I realized that I have an interest in NGOs – these non-profits are making such a difference and they’re doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Her daily commute to D.C. made possible through a stipend from McDaniel’s Center for Experience and Opportunity (CEO), Toler first spent some time learning about the UPA and its background. The staff at UPA immediately saw Toler’s strong academics, intellectual curiosity, compassion for the world and fantastic work ethic, according to communications director Marla Schrader, who found herself sending more and more projects Toler’s way.

“All of this combined with her interest and background on Gaza made her a natural fit to assume responsibilities with regard to the Gaza Children’s Art Exhibit,” Schrader said of the traveling exhibit of art produced by the children of Gaza that is currently being developed by UPA.

Arabic major finds natural fit in United Palestinian Appeal internship Toler sorted and categorized the artwork that came from the Palestinian children in Gaza.

“Some of the images were of a storybook setting that doesn’t exist for these children,” Toler said. “Others made you shudder.”

Toler coincidentally had just finished Sociology professor Sara Raley’s “Growing Up in Gaza” course and knew all too well what life was like for the children behind the art. Her internship was even more meaningful, she said, because her studies provided her with an extensive background in Middle Eastern affairs and particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Toler’s work complemented UPA goals, according to the organization’s executive director, Saleem Zaru.

“Our goal is to provide interested students a meaningful experience that is beneficial to United Palestinian Appeal, which strives to transform lives and empower communities through educational, health and community development programs in Palestine and the Palestinian Refugee Camps in the Middle East. Shelby’s work on this project did just that,” said Zaru, whose wife, Carol, teaches in McDaniel’s Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies program.

Toler plans to continue to work on the traveling exhibit.

“All of the projects I worked on were engaging and benefited others in many ways, but I think the art exhibit was the most rewarding since it will ultimately be a traveling exhibit to promote education and awareness about the hardships and psychological effects of the occupation in Palestine,” Toler said, adding that she was pleasantly surprised at a luncheon meeting about the traveling exhibit to see Raley among those discussing the exhibit.

A long way from her original goal of a Biochemistry degree and Forensic Science minor in preparation for a career in a crime lab, Toler now sees applying Arabic and Middle Eastern studies to a career in government or non-profit – but she isn’t finished exploring the opportunities yet.

And the door at UPA remains open to other McDaniel students whose interests mesh with an internship at the nonprofit.

“Our thanks goes out to McDaniel College for preparing the next generation of leaders to engage the world with intellect and compassion,” Schrader said.