An accomplished musician, a budding engineer, and a community volunteer: Meet Faris Al Jamal

The Yousef Nawas Award for Innovation is a prize directed at active, academically excellent students who strive to serve their communities and Palestinians everywhere. Faris Tayseer Al Jamal, the recipient of the 2017 award, has made a life out of doing just that: Volunteering, helping others, and spreading knowledge.

The award is the latest in a long streak of achievements for Al Jamal, both during his school years in Tulkarem and at Birzeit University, which had a profound impact on how he interacts with and affects change in his society.

“My journey at Birzeit University – which has yet to end – has taught me to speak my mind on everything and to everyone. It has taught me the importance of freedom of thought and expression, and the significance of following an independent line of thinking while still maintaining social and community connections. But most importantly, it has taught me to look at everything with a critical eye,” said Al Jamal, adding that he is looking forward to more challenges and more awards.

A deep-seated love for knowledge

Al Jamal’s love for knowledge started at a young age. His parents, he said, always encouraged him to go out, explore, and investigate. He would find training or volunteer opportunities in his hometown of Tulkarem, benefit all he could, and then find the next public speaking, videography, or oud training course.

“During my school years, I developed a habit of trying anything and everything I could sign up for. Even if a particular subject or topic didn’t have a training course available, I would search for online courses. Being around people from a young age helped me develop my public speaking, interpersonal, and presentation skills,” commented Al Jamal.

Of course, knowledge has to be coupled with practice, and Al Jamal took that axiom to heart. He would hold public music sessions in town squares in Tulkarem, volunteer in summer camps, and host his own YouTube shows.

These achievements were met with due recognition. Al Jamal won first place in three oud competitions organized by the Ministry of Education and was the first Palestinian to win the International Award of H.H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak for the Arab Youth.

Al Jamal in his element at Birzeit University

With such an impressive list of accomplishments under his belt, Al Jamal must have entered the university thinking that there was little new he could experience. But he enrolled at Birzeit University prepared to explore new concepts and reach new heights.

“Once I set foot on the university’s campus, I was ready to start a new stage, one where I could bolster my knowledge and help those around me,” he added.

From the tender age of six, Al Jamal wanted to be an aerospace engineer. He said that all of the volunteer work he did and knowledge he attained were directed toward achieving that goal. Unfortunately, no aerospace engineering program is available at any university in Palestine. So, Al Jamal chose a closely-related program: Mechanical engineering at Birzeit University.

“I chose Birzeit University because of its academic reputation and its engaging atmosphere. I would hear my parents and relatives talk fondly of their days at this university, and I decided to try it out for myself and experience what they were talking about,” Al Jamal noted.

At Birzeit University, Al Jamal rose through the ranks as an active member of its community, volunteering in a multitude of extra-curricular activities and clubs. He is a member of the Astronomy Club and the Debate Club; he took part in the Right to Movement Campaign; he participated in many Idea Factory discussions and sessions; and he produced creative videos as an Arab Innovation Network Online Star.

His first year, he recalled, revolved around experimentation; it was a conscious effort to try everything and gain as much knowledge as he could. His second year, however, was focused on his true goal: aerospace engineering.  

“I focused all of my efforts during my second year at the university on gaining a new understanding of aerospace engineering. I would read books, enroll in online courses, and even try to shape my courses at Birzeit University around aerospace engineering,” Al Jamal remarked, saying that his previous experiences, such as with Al Nayzak Organization for Supportive Education and Scientific Innovation, helped him in drawing information from all sources.

Going global

Of course, Al Jamal was not content with only local experiences. He wanted to imbue himself with a global perspective and enrich his already-extensive list of skills. In the fall semester of 2017, he traveled to Spain under the Erasmus+ student exchange program.

“While it was a whole new experience for me – new language and culture – it was not that difficult to fit in and start learning and sharing knowledge. I made sure not to leave without leaving a positive mark on the people in the events I attended there,” Al Jamal noted. And quite a mark it was.

During his time in Bilbao, Spain, Al Jamal shot and directed a film about the University of Deusto’s Interdisciplinary Research Platform on Ageing and Wellbeing. The film explored how best to integrate senior Spanish citizens in their immediate communities and broader Spanish society.

Al Jamal also organized and participated in activities that promoted Palestine, raised awareness on the Palestinian cause, and publicized Birzeit University’s different academic programs and social initiatives. Additionally, he represented the University of Deusto in the regional Erasmus+ conference in Barcelona.

For many, traveling to a new country and learning a new language are challenging endeavors. For Al Jamal, however, they are gateways to new worlds. “My time in Spain made me recognize the importance of understanding the different cultures of the world and the significance of teaching, and learning, the various languages spoken around the globe,” he reflected. “Learning a new language opens a whole new world of knowledge and information, which you can use in research or to keep abreast of today’s multicultural, integrated world from a multitude of perspectives.”

A word of advice

Addressing his fellow students and colleagues, Al Jamal urged them to pursue their passions and work toward achieving their dreams. “The university,” he said, “is the perfect place for exploring what you like and dislike. I love my current major, and that’s why I don’t feel that I have a burden on my shoulders to study. I do it to learn new things, and I believe that you will enjoy your program if you follow what you love.”