A Davidson sophomore who, before college, developed a program to train teachers in Tunisia – that’s Mariem Bchir ’20. Born in Tunis, Tunisia, and the eldest of four children, Bchir applied to the African Leadership Academy in South Africa at the age of 18, in search of a more challenging and fulfilling educational experience. There, she honed her passions for education and entrepreneurial leadership.

“In Tunisia, the two career options were medicine and engineering,” said Bchir. “I wasn’t happy with the educational system in Tunisia, and I was passionate about improving it for other students.”

The Belk Scholar and Chidsey Fellow only applied to Davidson, and she took a gap year before enrolling. During this time, she traveled throughout Europe, held internships in Tunisia and Slovakia and further developed the teacher training program Show Me How You Teach, which aims to instill passion, emotional intelligence and teaching skills into high school and middle school educators. A team of 15 now work on this project and its various conferences and online resources. The dream? Create a full academy by 2025 that provides training for all African teachers with three years or less of experience.

The year she says she “woke up” to the issues with the educational system in Tunisia was when she was 16. She noticed significant differences between the way her Arabic teacher, who was nearing retirement age, was able to engage and connect with students, compared to her English teacher who was newer to the field.

“It was [the Arabic teacher’s] art of teaching and the relationships he built even with the most difficult students, and it clicked in my mind that there’s something there to explore,” Bchir said. “Yes the curriculum is not amazing, yes the environment is not the best, but still this teacher, despite all these conditions, could make them appreciate and engage with the material and the subject he’s teaching. That was the thing that sparked my interest. I don’t want the younger generations to go to a class where they feel afraid of teachers or where they go out of fear and not out of love of learning. I also want teachers to feel empowered and enjoy their role in society, which would eventually affect students positively.”

Arriving at Davidson as a first-year student, but at the age of 21, was unique.

“I was a little afraid before Davidson,” she said. “At the beginning, I connected more easily with professors, but the discussions going on among my classmates got my attention. The students were very mature. I do find that I worry a lot less about my GPA or getting into grad school; college for me is about gaining skills.”

English is Bchir’s third language, and she has taken introductory Russian and Mandarin courses at Davidson. She chose to major in computer science as those skills are essential for her work in teacher training. Through EdX, she has built upon her curriculum development efforts, thanks to a grant through the college’s Center for Civic Engagement.

“Everyone at Davidson is approachable and accessible,” said Bchir. “If I tried to book a lunch with every person I could learn from, I’d run out of days. It’s beautiful to have all these people in the same place. I feel so lucky to be a part of this community.”

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