The NCA presents “Dissertation of the Year” award to former UW Comm student
Former student Fahed Al-Sumait recently received the “Dissertation of the Year” award through the International and Intercultural division of the National Communication Association (NCA). Al-Sumait completed his B.A. in 1998 and his Ph.D. in 2011, both from the UW Department of Communication. He is now Assistant Professor of Communication at the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST) and was chosen by the NCA among more than 8,000 educators, practitioners, and students in every U.S. state and more than 20 countries.
“I was deeply honored to receive such recognition for my work,” said Al-Sumait. “The competition for this year was the highest the reviewers had ever seen and the nature of my dissertation is very interdisciplinary, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to actually win this award.”
Al-Sumait titled his dissertation “Contested Discourses on Arab Democratization in the United States and Kuwait,” which observed similarities and differences of Arab democracy that exist between people in the U.S. and Kuwait. Funding from a Fulbright-Hays fellowship and the Department of Communication Peter Clarke Graduate Research Grant allowed him to do field research in Kuwait, where he interviewed leading politicians and leaders.
“I think the most important thing I learned from conducting my dissertation were my own limits,” Al-Sumait said. “As cliché as it sounds, I really did come away with more questions than answers.”
Al-Sumait’s mentorship committee included Nancy Rivenburgh, Phil Howard, Lance Bennett, and Resat Kasaba, along with his chair David Domke, who Al-Sumait said taught him the value of collaboration. The faculty and graduate students influenced his scholarship in profound ways that are reflected in his dissertation, he said.
“I learned a lot by seeing everyone’s intellectual curiosity and the different paths they used to explore interesting questions,” Al-Sumait said. “My classes, conferences, and countless conversations while at the UW helped me to develop focus for my interests in political and global communication studies.”
Being of mixed Arab and American heritage, as well as the post-9/11 political context, also influenced Al-Sumait’s interest in the U.S. and Middle East relations. In the end, he concluded that “our global understanding of the public sphere and even democracy itself may be subject to some important reinterpretations if we include more Arab perspectives into their rich assortment of meanings.”
“Getting this award was a major morale booster,” Al-Sumait said. “It tells me that the questions I’m interested in also appeal to other scholars. That’s inspiring.”
-By Erica Thompson