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Arwa Sawan sits in Mason's Fenwick Library

Arwa Sawan, a Washington, D.C.-based producer and host of news programming for the Alhurra television network, says her bachelor of individualized study degree will help her tell compelling stories and market them to the widest audience.

Sawan Wants to Make Films that Make a Difference

Arwa Sawan is one of the most recognizable faces on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus, at least to the 27 million viewers of the Alhurra television news network.

Sawan has been a Washington, D.C.-based producer and host of news programming at the network, which broadcasts in 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, since 2013. In addition to covering major events—including feature stories, news and entertainment segments—she moderates her own weekly show, Focus.

Sawan, who has a bachelor of science degree in psychology, loves her full-time job, but she wants to do more. Last year, she began working on a bachelor of individualized study (BIS) at Mason, which allows her to combine several interdisciplinary concentrations to reach her professional goals.

“When I came [to Mason] I decided I did not want to jump into a master’s program,” she says. “I wanted another bachelor’s degree—and to make it powerful.”

Mason’s BIS program works with students to develop curriculum in disparate concentrations, creating a degree they feel will best help them advance in their careers. The program recognizes transfer options from previous schools and integrates college-level professional or military experience into the coursework.

Arwa’s previous accomplishments, in addition to rising through the ranks of broadcast journalism, include co-writing two books on learning Arabic and serving as an adjunct professor in Arabic and mass media Arabic courses at the University of Maryland, Trinity University, and the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.

At Mason, Sawan is taking nine hours of course credits a semester in new media, film studies, and human rights with a focus on “women’s rights, especially in the Middle East,” she says.

“If I could change the world, I would focus on how we communicate between different cultures and how to reach out to our humanity that binds all of us. This would help create a peaceful environment.”

— Arwa Sawan

The BIS degree, she says, will strengthen her ability to tell compelling stories in film and video and to successfully market them to the widest audience to do the most good. She’s working on a documentary about the plight—and the impact on the United States—of Syrian refugees living in the United States.

Her studies at Mason will polish the skills she already practices at her job, in addition to adding insight as to marketing finished products, says Lisa Thrasher, professor of producing and business in Mason’s Film and Video Studies Program who is teaching Sawan the ins-and-outs of the independent production industry.

“In my class, she’s learning about contracts and licensing, distribution, film festivals, and how to take the product and get it out into the world, with all the legal rights and clearances that she needs to show it publicly and how to market it,” Thrasher says.

“This will give me a solid foundation for my career objectives,” Sawan says.