Ola Abou-Khsaiwan

Class Year: 

Hometown: Janabiyah, Bahrain


Abdul Rahman Kanoo International School



The Huntsman Experience

Ola was awarded the Crown Prince International Scholarship in her senior year of high school – a prestigious, full-ride scholarship awarded to the top two private school girls in Bahrain – which enabled her to pursue her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Having grown up between the Middle East and North America, Ola developed a comparative sense of what it means to live in a “developing” vs. “developed” context. It was with that impetus that she applied to the Huntsman Program. The Huntsman program proved to be the best vehicle through which she could study the Middle East under a magnified lens while also gaining valuable technical skills, particularly in data analysis and programming. To that end, she decided to concentrate in Statistics. Her favorite class at Penn is Consumers, Firms, and Markets in Developing Countries (BEPP 233) with the economist Robert Jensen. The class helped her develop a special research interest in gender, law and development, and political economy.

Exploring Diverse Interests

Her research involvement at Penn has largely shaped her academic experience and future career trajectory. Her passion was first ignited by the opportunity that Wharton’s Social Impact Research Award made possible. She studied the impact of income-generating projects on women’s empowerment in rural Morocco. This experience was transformative as it motivated her to continue working on research during her remaining time at Penn. The following summer she received the Penn Public Policy Initiative Research Fellowship, and worked as a research assistant with two professors at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. Inspired by the power of research, she decided to pursue two theses during her senior year. For her Huntsman honors thesis, she studied the impact of a unilateral divorce reform implemented in Egypt in 2000 on the labor force participation of women. Through the Wharton Research Scholars program, she worked on a paper that attempts to assess the impact of same-sex marriage legalization on the labor outcomes of lesbian women in the USA.

Beyond the Classroom

As for work experience, Ola has gained experience across various industries, specifically in international development and the financial services industry, working with organizations such as the United Nations, International Institute for Strategic Studies, and JP Morgan. Beyond her academic and professional experiences, Ola is involved with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at Penn Law, a group that offers legal representation to refugees seeking resettlement to the US. She serves as a translator, bridging the barrier that exists between refugees and the legal system. She also plays Middle Eastern percussion (darbuka) with the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble.

She will be studying abroad at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon during the fall of 2015. Looking down the line, Ola sees herself pursuing a graduate career at the intersection of data science and economics.