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Kuwait to Idaho

Kuwait to Idaho: How one student found success
Story written by Cheryl Dudley

After Meshari Alhajri is awarded his doctoral degree in special education this month, he’ll return to his home in Kuwait on the northwestern shore of the Persian Gulf. There he already has a job waiting at a community college, where he’ll help design a program for students seeking an undergraduate degree in special education.

“I will be only the second or third person in my country who has this degree from the United States,” said Meshari. “A degree from the United States is considered the most prestigious in our country, followed by Europe.” Meshari’s research focuses on multiple intelligence tests for children.

Meshari was born July 6, 1979 in Kuwait. Growing up with five brothers and three sisters was a beautiful experience for him, perhaps nurturing his love for children. He had a close family and attended strict public schools. When Meshari would see special needs children in Kuwait, he was always touched.

“I love children,” he said, “ and I especially love to help children with Downs Syndrome. Back home when I visited my sister, who is a medical doctor, I would see the children at the hospital. I decided in 1997 that I wanted to work with special needs children.”

Meshari earned a bachelor’s degree in special needs psychology from Kuwait University, and then traveled to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in special education. When he arrived at a university in Indiana, he discovered that the classes he needed were only offered online. This was a problem for him because English is his second language and he needed more one-on-one help. When he found out about the University of Idaho’s special education program, he called and talked with former dean of the College of Education Dale Gentry. That’s when he decided to make the switch to Idaho. He took a train from Chicago to Spokane, then a bus to the Royal Motor Inn in Moscow with no real idea where he was going or what he would encounter.

“I had no idea what Idaho was like,” said Meshari. “When I got off the bus in December 2005, I thought that Idaho was paradise.” Kuwait’s climate is like Las Vegas, he added, very hot in the summer but cold in winter. He was mesmerized by the beauty of the deep Idaho snow and landscape.

Meshari was immediately immersed in the master’s degree program, and with the help of education faculty, he earned his degree in May 2007 and soon began work on his doctoral degree, which he successfully defended on April 13. “I could not have done it without the help of Jerry Fisher, Gloria Johnson, Dale Gentry, Terry Jentsch, and others,” he said. “They were just so helpful and so kind.”
The title of Meshari’s doctoral dissertation is “Attitudes of Special Education Teachers and School Psychologists Toward Individualized Education Plans Developed Using Traditional Assessments Versus Individualized Education Plans Developed Using a Multiple Intelligence Assessment.” He plans to continue his research, hoping to find better treatment plans for children with special needs.

Meshari’s favorite memories of Idaho are of all the friends and faculty who helped him and stood by him. But he’s not leaving Idaho behind forever. He plans to publish his dissertation and continue his research in Idaho during Christmas and summer holidays because of access to libraries and research materials—and because he has developed so many friendships here.

“I love Idaho,” he said. “Go Vandals!”