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Impact x2 Qais

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How can we work together to promote better cultural understanding worldwide?

Qais Akbar Omar (GRS’16), a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program, has published a much-praised memoir, A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story. He recalls how the violence and tumult of civil war jolted his family, who, despite losing relatives, their home, and possessions, continued to nurture his wish to attend a university.

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With your help, students like Qais gain the skills they need to tell their story and give us a broader understanding of the world.

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Academic Enhancement Fund

The endowed Virginia Sapiro Academic Enhancement Fund (AEF) enables CAS faculty members to build unique learning opportunities into their undergraduate course syllabi, using historic and contemporary Boston as an extended classroom and taking advantage of the city and University as magnets for leading academics, artists, and experts. Activities and events sponsored by the AEF include class trips to cultural performances, guided visits to local exhibits and institutions, and encounters, both formal and informal, with distinguished visiting scholars. In some cases, students themselves play an active role in designing and carrying out AEF-sponsored events.


Students in Professor Linda Heywood’s African American history class on the Black Heritage Trail.

In 2013/2104, the Fund supported more than 60 events in CAS courses across a wide range of disciplines. Thanks to the AEF, Professor Keith Morgan’s “Architecture & Planning” seminar and Professor Japonica Brown-Saracino’s class on “Boston’s People and Neighborhoods” got to know the city as a built environment and ethnographic case study. Department of Religion faculty focused assignments on a special “Dead Sea Scrolls” exhibit at the Museum of Science. Students attended operas, classic and first-run films, and a number of theatrical productions, some live streaming: from Shakespeare, to Strindberg and Chekhov, to Margaret Cho’s stand-up comedy. They canoed on the Charles (in a Writing seminar on local pollution), sampled cuisines they were studying, and tried their hands at shaman drumming.

AH AM 367 Cogswells Grant Fall 2012

History of Art and Architecture students visit historic Cogswell’s Grant house with Associate Professor William Moore.

AEF-sponsored visitors to CAS classes included creative writers and filmmakers, as well as experts on postcolonial and speculative fiction, modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and genomic technologies for understanding human-environment interactions over time. Distinguished CAS graduates in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology returned to campus to discuss their research and careers with current Honors majors. The AEF also helped to defray costs of excursions beyond Boston city limits, to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and the Tenement Museum in New York City. In these, and all other AEF-supported events, the fund did exactly what it was designed to do: advance the goals of CAS course and add depth to the educational experiences of undergraduate students, by allowing them to take advantage of resources uniquely available through the College, their professors, and the cultural richness of the region.

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Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality 101 students and faculty on a boat tour of landmarks along the Charles River.

The fund is administered by CAS Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Susan Jackson and Tess Varney, academic services administrator for CAS student academic life. A simple application is available here. For more information please contact or

To support the endowed Virginia Sapiro Academic Enhancement Fund, go here.