University of Notre Dame seniors Thanh Nguyen and Farah Khashman will be honored as the winners of this year’s Yarrow Award in Peace Studies. The award is given annually by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies to an undergraduate student or students who demonstrate academic excellence and commitment to service in justice and peace. Selected students show a particular commitment to the undergraduate program and its learning community, and have identified career goals that reflect a future dedication to peace and justice.
Khashman, a computer science major with a supplementary major in peace studies, and Nguyen, a political science major with a supplementary major in peace studies, will deliver remarks to their fellow peace studies classmates during an in-person celebration for the undergraduate peace studies Class of 2023 on Friday, May 19.
“This was an incredible cohort of students, a large number of whom demonstrate an enormous passion and commitment to peace studies,” said Laura Miller-Graff, associate professor of psychology and peace studies and director of undergraduate studies. “Both Farah and Thanh have made significant contributions to our program and have demonstrated a sustained commitment to peace studies in their current and future work.”
Khashman always knew that she wanted to pursue a degree in computer science with a goal toward a career in nonprofit work, or working for a company with a mission toward peace and justice. With financial support from the Kroc Institute, she was able to attend the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Denver, Colorado in April 2023. “Having that opportunity helped me discover that there is a space dedicated to people who want to do similar work,” she said.
As a member of the first cohort of computer science students in the Bachelor of Arts program, Khashman appreciated the flexibility to add a supplementary major to her studies. During her freshman year while browsing the Notre Dame course catalog, Khashman quickly realized that every time she came across a course description that interested her, it had a peace studies attribute. “Peace studies is exactly where I wanted to be,” she said.
The potential for a career that combined computer science and peace studies became real for Khashman when she took on an internship as a research and software development assistant with Tim Weninger, Frank M. Freimann Associate Professor of Engineering. Working on a project with a goal of using machine learning algorithms to increase literacy and prevent political violence, Khashman was introduced to Garrett Fitzgerald (Ph.D. ‘20) and Michael Yankoski (theology & peace studies). “That was the first step for me to realize that I could truly contribute my skills and interests to such important work.”
“Farah has been a wonderful citizen of the peace studies program,” said Miller-Graff. “Her interest in merging her work in computer science with peace studies brings forward a growing area of importance in peace studies - the intersection of technology and peacebuilding. Farah has consistently supported the peace studies community through her dedication and passion.”
Khashman credits taking courses in trauma and peacebuilding and restorative justice as being transformational. Through a course in her junior year, about visualizing global change, Khashman was able to tap her photography skills to submit a project on Notre Dame’s geographical position and its relationship with the Potawatomi tribe. Her photo project was then submitted and accepted as an exhibit to the 2022 Student Peace Conference.
Following graduation, Khashman will work as a quantitative developer for Acadia, a financial technology company focusing on risk engines where she interned last summer at the Dublin Global Gateway. Eventually, she says, she wants to pivot back to the nonprofit field or go into research software development. And once she has more technical experience under her belt, she would like to bring those skills back home to Jordan, to serve the community there. “I will keep in constant communication with family and friends there to know what skills I will need so that when I do come back, I am fully equipped to be successful.”
Nguyen’s trajectory at Notre Dame began in pre-med but through a first-year discernment process, she ultimately chose political science her sophomore year. She took the course, “Holy Cross-roads: Religion and Politics from South Bend to South Asia,” a class offered in conjunction with the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs. “Traveling to Oman,” Nguyen said, “was where I discovered that I was really in love with the anatomy of society rather than the anatomy of the body.”
The political science major allowed Nguyen to feel unconstrained by disciplines and enabled her to add peace studies as a supplemental major, “which in itself is very interdisciplinary,” she said. “Peace studies allows me to have an ongoing journey of critical interrogation and self-interrogation.”
During summer 2022, Nguyen interned with Sabeel, a Palestinian liberation theology center, located in Palestine. The internship marked a profound moment for Nguyen. “It showed me how religion can be a very prophetic tool and a prophetic way of life for many people,” she said.
Nguyen’s political science senior thesis focused on the settler-colonial paradigm in the context of Israel/Palestine, which she presented at this year’s Student Peace Conference. “Using peace studies as a lens in my paper for a political science thesis allowed me to be unrestricted in methodology, and allowed me to draw from so many rich disciplines and scholarship. Peace studies has helped me to do that,” Nguyen said.
“Thanh has been engaged in exciting research and scholarship on Palestine using liberation theology and decolonial frameworks, which represent important theoretical lenses for the field of peace studies,” Miller-Graff said. “Her research, presented at our annual Student Peace Conference, is an exemplar of the great work our students are doing.”
Following graduation, Nguyen hopes to use her education to continue working on different peace issues.