Photo courtesy of Sara Pan Algarra

Spotlight — Sara Pan Algarra

NYU Abu Dhabi graduate Sara Pan Algarra was recently selected as a Hillary Rodham Clinton Global Challenges Scholar. We catch up with her to understand her work and research in education policy.

Feb 20, 2021

On Feb. 5, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton posted on her social media accounts congratulating the incoming class of Hillary Rodham Clinton Global Challenges Scholars. Among them was Sara Pan Algarra, Class of 2020, who will be pursuing a master’s degree in Global Challenges: Law, Policy and Practice at Swansea University’s School of Law.
The scholarship covers full tuition and living expenses for selected students to pursue a one-year graduate degree, diving into human rights work and the intersection between law and policy. Scholars choose one of the four target areas to specialize in, including environmental law, human rights, children’s rights and cybersecurity. The selected participants also complete a mandatory internship and develop a unique project in the process.
Pan Algarra’s research focuses on children’s rights, particularly on how climate displacement has impacted efforts to achieve girls’ education. She aims to examine the issue from not only an environmental standpoint, but also with the intersection of gender inequality in education. She will be writing a dissertation on the topic at the end of her program, complemented by an internship at UNICEF U.K.
She was first introduced to the opportunity by her supervisor at Hedayah, an organization that seeks to combat violent extremism, where she interned in her sophomore year.
Pan Algarra took a leave of absence her junior year and graduated off cycle in January 2021. She was looking for graduate school programs that would start immediately after earning her double degree in Social Research and Public Policy and Theater. Fortunately, the Global Challenges Scholarship offered a February 2021 start date.
“I didn’t think I would be selected because my background in law was very limited,” Pan Algarra admitted. “I think I got selected … [because] I have a very compassionate and calm approach to things … I think it’s good to have in teams like these, competitive people that are quite kind, who think about wellbeing beyond productivity. And I have a clear idea that I want to do education policy. I am interested in the intersection, again bringing research out into the field.”
What initially drew Pan Algarra to the program was its small class sizes and diverse group of students, which reminded her of the familiar NYU Abu Dhabi learning atmosphere. The Venezuelan scholar represents Latin America in her group of scholars, working along with others from all over the world, such as Nigeria and Australia.
Given NYUAD’s stellar record of producing recipients of prestigious awards such as the Rhodes Scholarship, Pan Algarra observed that it is easy for students to only focus on these big names and miss out on other opportunities. She herself applied for the Rhodes Scholarship but was not selected for the award. “One message that to me is important is to really remain open to what opportunities are [available] for those people that need scholarships, for example, to study for grad school, to really look at different things and be open to opportunities,” said Pan Algarra. “If you don’t have other ideas or other options and are made open to other schools, then I think we are narrowing ourselves a bit.”
Photo courtesy of Sara Pan Algarra
Pan Algarra’s track of academic excellence can be seen even during her years at NYUAD. She was part of the 2017 Dalai Lama Fellows — a program that trains participants in compassionate leadership through meditation, mindfulness and active listening. Fellows also develop a project during their time there, and she pioneered a program that engages female migrant workers in Abu Dhabi with students on campus through sports.
During her senior year, Pan Algarra also led a group of students at the Student Interest Group ElevatED to write a storybook for refugee children titled Where Is Our Home? Written in both Arabic and English, it tells the story of a child and his parents searching for a home as they travel through different countries.
“I think it connects, of course, to our conversation that is so relevant to migration and refugees, but in our university … we all ask the question, even the locals … [we ask] what’s home? It’s such a relevant question,” she noted. The books are already in Jordan and will be distributed to about 3000 children through the organization We Love Reading.
Education has been a continued passion for Pan Algarra, and she plans on pursuing a PhD in education policy after her master's program. In the future, she hopes to return to her home country of Venezuela to do work related to politics. She even aspires to become the president of the nation one day.
While she enjoyed pursuing her passion in public policy and theater at NYUAD, she wished that she had the opportunity to major in education. Although she minored in the field through the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at NYU New York, she thinks that studying education against the backdrop of Abu Dhabi and the wider Middle East will provide a unique and local context for the many students that are interested.
“I hope that in a couple of years, I’ll talk to people majoring in education, and I wish I could have had that chance,” she said. “We do have great professors that could come to [university] and really study education as a field.”
With regards to her feature on The Gazelle’s Spotlight Series, Pan Algarra wanted readers to know that she is just like any of them.
“I recall reading articles of people that graduated from our uni in my senior year, and I would look back and say, ‘I admire them so much, what they’re doing is amazing and so inspiring’ ... As an NYUAD student, you … develop this sensation that ‘I’m not enough’ and ‘I’m not doing enough.’”
“You’re doing great, and whatever you’re doing right now is important.” Pan Algarra ended with a timely reminder. “Taking time is important too. We all have our own journeys, and we’ll all find things that are the right fit for us … Let’s try to help each other rather than feeding that pressure of ‘I have to become this or [that] person, but [focus on] what’s our potential and what we can do right now.’”
Charlie Fong is News Editor. Email her at
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