As a child, Lara Abu-Salim never traveled far outside Jordan. She visited Syria and Saudi Arabia with her family, but she spent most of her time close to home in Salt.
The agricultural town, which once served as an Ottoman center of government, lies along the ancient trade route between Jerusalem and the Middle East interior. Abu-Salim earned a computer engineering degree from a local university in Salt and then started commuting to work about 30 kilometers southeast in Amman.
That’s when she discovered the Business Development Center (BDC), a nonprofit organization that has teamed with Thunderbird to help small and medium-sized businesses succeed in Jordan.
The partnership, which received a boost in 2008 with a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, already has touched the lives of dozens of Jordanian professionals and entrepreneurs through an array of educational programs.
In the process, the alliance has helped Thunderbird raise its profile in Jordan and empower a new generation of high-potential Middle East managers.
“We are seeing Thunderbird more in the news,” says Ibrahim Fahoum ’78, who operates one of Jordan’s top private elementary and secondary schools. “There are stories to tell, and that is wonderful.”
Abu-Salim’s story gained momentum when she enrolled in the Maharat program, a BDC initiative that provides business education to young college graduates from all over Jordan. She eventually earned a Maharat scholarship to study abroad for one trimester at Thunderbird.
“I always aspired to study in the United States,” Abu-Salim says. “As a female from Salt, this scholarship has empowered me and added significantly to my skill set and knowledge.”
The young engineer arrived in Arizona in spring 2009 with 18 classmates in the Maharat program. Traveling abroad without her family was a new experience, but Abu-Salim says she found a second home at Thunderbird.
She met new friends on campus from all over the world and deepened her ties to her Jordanian classmates. “We still call each other all the time,” Abu-Salim says. “We are family, really.”
Back in Jordan, Abu-Salim also shares her Thunderbird experience at the BDC with new Maharat participants. “I am a people person,” she says. “It is my passion to work with young people at the BDC. I am willing to work and learn and pay back the community.”
Abu-Salim’s hard work also has led to a customer service career at Estarta Solutions, a Jordanian company that provides information technology solutions across the region for clients such as Cisco Systems.
Customers call daily from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which gives Abu-Salim a chance to apply the cross-cultural communication skills she learned at Thunderbird. “I use my Thunderbird education everyday,” she says.