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Tamim Akiki '08 is Named Hamilton's Fifth GOLD Scholar

By Erika Klar  |  Contact Erika Klar
Posted June 30, 2007
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Thanks to the generous support of its young alumni, Hamilton College is pleased to name Tamim Akiki '08, of Kfardebian, Lebanon, as its fifth GOLD Scholar.

As a senior at the United World Colleges in Norway, Akiki was drawn to Clinton's small-town environment and snowy winters. What inspired him to apply to Hamilton College, however, was his interview with former Senior Associate Dean of Admission Mary Karen Vellines. He talked with her about the United States war in Iraq, which had just begun, and was impressed that a school official would engage in discussion around a potentially sensitive issue. This was representative of the kind of academic environment he was seeking. He applied Early Decision.

Once on the Hill, Akiki experienced firsthand the depth of faculty-student relationships he had heard about. Akiki's first advisor, then Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics Tolga Koker, was tremendously helpful in assisting him [Akiki] as he navigated course choices and Akiki recalls most of all Koker's candor. Akiki later became a grader for, and did summer research with, James L. Ferguson Professor of Economics Erol Balkan. Although Akiki had not taken any courses with Balkan, over time he became a mentor and surrogate father. "He would help with everything," says Akiki. "No matter the topic or the course, he'd give me the resources. When I think about my Hamilton experience, Professor Balkan's presence cannot be overstated."

Akiki speaks as warmly of Associate Professor of Economics Ann Owen. He describes Dr. Owen as "a role model," citing her presence both in and out of the classroom. Her classes are so enjoyable that he has not missed one even though they start at 8:30 AM. "I've occassionally missed other classes, but not one of hers. She makes class fun," he says. "She revived my passion for economics."

This resuscitation has been influential for Akiki. Under the guidance of Associate Professor Paul Hagstrom, Akiki devoted summer 2005 to his Levitt research on economic outcomes for immigrants in the United States. In spring 2006, while participating in Hamilton's New York City program, he worked in Merrill Lynch's Investment Strategy Group developing new models for sector performance. That summer, he returned to Lebanon to research the role of the central bank in small economies and exchange rates and this summer, he is back at Merrill Lynch, this time in Equity Research.

While he hopes to make a substantial contribution at the investment bank, he has already made a lasting one for Hamilton by developing HamPoll, an organization that collects and reports student (and faculty) opinion. Akiki capitalized on a "town-gown" connection with Zogby International, the nationally renowned polling organization based in Utica. Akiki met with president and chief executive officer John Zogby, who showed him around the company and shared his extensive expertise. With Assistant Professor of Economics Julio Videras and Michael Gregg '08, Akiki launched four HamPolls in 2006-07: romantic relationships (garnering over 700 responses, or nearly 40 percent of the student body); Hamilton's "educational system" (writing intensive courses, oral communications and departmental resources), which also resulted in several hundred responses; diversity and accessibility; and environmental awareness. The group has collected, published and presented their research to make their data usable. Akiki would like HamPoll to grow by implementing "panel data," i.e., taking frequent surveys of the same sample. In the meantime, thanks to Akiki's ingenuity, Hamilton has a statistically sound mechanism for gathering campus community opinions.

Akiki rounds out his scholarly work through social outlets, namely through tutoring Arabic, the Middle Eastern Students Association and the International Students Association. "As much as I appreciate academics," he says "what matters to me the most is being active and being surrounded by people who are getting involved."

With Akiki's help, over one dozen Hamilton students have learned Arabic. In coordination with the director of the Critical Languages Program Mary Beth Barth, Akiki tutored fellow students as they undertook self-taught Arabic, which had not been offered in five years. While Akiki is sharing his knowledge, he is appreciative of what it has given back to him: personal connections with more people on campus. He developed such strong friendships with members of all class years that he has been to all three Commencement ceremonies to watch friends graduate. "These people became some of my best friends and I'm happy to have helped Mary Beth make learning Arabic possible for them."

In his first year, Akiki established the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA). Over three years and with Debbie Deffaa '05, Derek King '07 and Greg Esser '07 (all of whom he had tutored), he grew both the budget and the sources of funding, which enabled lectures on political, religious and historical issues; dinners featuring Middle Eastern food (another "town-gown" connection with New Hartford's Phoenician restaurant owner, George Karam); and a belly-dancing performance, which drew an audience of several hundred.

Akiki looks forward to his senior year. "After a semester and summer in New York City, it will be like coming home to be back on campus. Intellectually, I am eager about the economics courses I'm taking on immigration and macro topics, and about doing more with HamPoll. I've made great friends through tutoring Arabic, MESA and even the HAVOC [Hamilton Action Volunteer Outreach Coalition] trip this summer to the Gulf region. Senior year will be a time to just enjoy all that Hamilton has given to me."


GOLD Scholars is an initiative supported by the Annual Fund, which has always provided direct support for the College's most important current priorities, especially scholarship aid. Starting this year, gifts from the GOLD Group – Graduates of the Last Decade – will specifically support students on campus. With each $15,000 increment collectively contributed, the College will select a student as a GOLD Scholar for 2006-07.

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