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International Affairs

Written by Anna Christensen, ('22)

In his mid-50’s, Mo Al Tayara stands out from his fellow students, both in terms of his story and his dedication. “The first time [I had class], I thought - my kids are older than some of the students around me!” With a major in International Affairs, a Concentration in International Conflict and Security, and double minors in Political Science and Honors, Mo has pushed himself in the past four years to accomplish a goal he vowed to meet years ago, just before a major operation. 

“I promised myself if I made it through surgery, I wanted to live life to the fullest - that second chance at life,” the kidney cancer survivor said, a determined glint in his eye. Prior to his diagnosis, he had dedicated himself to his family (wife and two children) as well as his job, but never found the time to pursue his passions. But with a new lease on life and incredible self-discipline, Mo moved his family from Florida in 2015 and began his college career. “I jumped on my computer and did some research”, he explained. His early dedication paid off: he graduated with Honors from Blue Ridge Community College before transferring to JMU, fully involving himself in his studies and the Honors College. 

One such involvement was his role as an HON100 teching fellow, which gave him the opportunity to pass on the lessons he’s learned throughout his academic career. “If there was something I wanted to plant into their minds, it was discipline and time management.” These are two things that Mo believes were instrumental to his own success - after all, he admitted that, “I don’t think I’m special, I don’t think I'm an exception - anybody can do it.” 

But it does take an incredibly disciplined person to accomplish what Mo has: juggling being a full-time student, having a full-time job, and being a “full-time husband and father”. He kept himself accountable by planning out every one of his intended classes from the first day of Freshman year to graduation, created his own Excel sheet to organize his class due dates, and always adhered to his own due date, which was often before the official ones. He gave this same advice to his students, telling them to “come up with your own system - mine was the one that worked for me, allowed me to discipline myself.” 


That first day of classes, Mo cites one interaction with a Math professor that kept him focused on his goal of graduation. The professor had graduated with a Master’s degree at the age of 65, serving as an example to Mo that success is never limited by age. And Mo’s become an example to students himself, installing his core values of discipline and time management. “No excuses,” he repeated multiple times. 

Like every Honors Student, Mo has worked tirelessly on his Honors Thesis. His research deals with minorities of the Middle East, and specifically why individuals in Syria push back against foreign democracy and their continued support of regimes. He argues that “policies enforced by the French mandate [after WWI]” were instrumental to impacting the attitudes of minorities in those areas. However, he admits, there was “not a lot in the literature” - a frustrating issue for any student, but an exciting indicator of true research innovation. 

Unlike other Honors Students, Mo took part in a unique program called the Washington Semester, which is designed to give political and cultural opportunities and connections in the nation’s capital. Students partake in internships, courses, and networking opportunities to grow their political careers post-graduation. With only 9 students remaining after COVID, Mo explains that his potential career path made him stay. “At the end of the day, our goal, our orientation, our target, is Washington, D.C”. COVID has certainly re-adjusted the program. With the ability to hire interns not located solely in Washington, D.C, many politicians choose people from their own districts, more people than ever were applying for fully virtual internships - the number of which reduced due to lack of funding or need for interns in general. In short, as Mo puts it, “the entire nation was applying for internships”. In a typical year, students in the Washington Semester apply for 10-15 internships. This year, Mo has applied to over 60. His hard work paid off: he’s currently working on a political campaign for Glenn Youngcan, who’s running for Governor of Virginia in 2022. Mo sees the opportunity to grow his own skillset - “I can add campaigning to my resume!” - and admits that COVID had made the environment more chaotic than normal, but that they’re adjusting accordingly. 

Mo’s drive certainly isn’t finished on his graduation date, despite feeling “on the edge of [his] seat”. He’s already been accepted into the “extremely competitive” JMU Florence program for his Masters, which he’s beginning work on this summer. After that, he has dreams of a PhD, with the “perfect scenario” being to conclude his career as a college professor. His passion for teaching, which first flourished in his role as an HON 100 teaching fellow, would no doubt inspire the next generation towards research and personal development. Mo has no intention of ever slowing down: “I enjoy work as much as I enjoy anything else,” he said thoughtfully. Then, with a bit of wry humor: “Everything happens for a reason.” 

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