Balancing Human Perspective

The 2012-13 Dalai Lama Scholarship recipient explains her inspirations and approach as a student and world citizen.

Soraya Azzawi, a fourth-year neurobiology and political science double-major, was recently awarded the 2012-13 UC Irvine XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship.

The scholarship was established in 2004. It is funded by donations from private citizens who heard the XIV Dalai Lama speak at UCI about ethical leadership and personal responsibility in our communities.

The scholarship is awarded to undergraduates who believe in these ideals and apply it into their academic work.

Azzawi grew up in Southern California and spent the majority of her childhood in Palos Verdes, moving to Irvine during middle school.

Azzawi says her mother was her main source of inspiration. She saw how her mother invested everything into the responsibilities of becoming a mother. She claims that without her mother’s sacrifices, she would not be where she is today.

When she was younger, her mother would travel around the world with her to study various cultural architectural styles.
“Such in-depth exposure to a rich diversity of languages and lifestyles was absolutely mind-blowing, and that unconventional childhood really molded my worldview and priorities,” Azzawi said.

With majors in both neurobiology and political science, many have wondered why she would embrace both, since the two have very little in common.

“In both, I’ve found perception plays an irreplaceable role,” Azzawi said. “Neurobiology approaches human perception from a technical, molecular perspective, while political science opts for a more social, psychological approach. Someone once said that when it comes to mankind, perception trumps fact. So I guess I just became interested in learning about how perception works.”

During her four years at UCI, Azzawi has been involved with a number of organizations on campus. She held positions as a staff writer and news editor at the New University and has been an active participant in the Olive Tree Initiative and Share Our Selves Clinic. She has also continued to conduct research at the Wood Laboratory at the Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

She joined the New University for her love of writing, focusing mainly on the News section.

“Writing for News provided a great way to stay on top of current affairs while getting to meet people from all walks of life,” Azzawi said. “I remember interviewing everything from world-renowned researchers to county police departments; just getting to hear those people’s stories was a very powerful experience.”

The Olive Tree Initiative presented an opportunity for Azzawi to see history in the making. Through it, she was able to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict apart from the stereotypes associated with it.

Her research at the Wood Laboratory equipped her with skills that incorporate into every other aspect of her life. Being in an environment surrounded by innovative individuals motivated her to be more creative and taught her to think differently than she normally would.

“Research and volunteering are the two activities I would highly recommend to any undergrad, regardless of their major,” Azzawi said.

The project she is currently working on revolves around mitigating wealth inequalities in refugee communities. They will be partnering with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to start an English tutoring program for refugee communities, as well as starting a student-run publication to raise awareness about humanitarian crises.

Being so involved has taught Azzawi how to manage her time.

“It is really challenging,” she said. “More often than not, I have to prioritize and cancel things that I would have really loved to do.
“Unfortunately, I’m still getting used to the fact that you can’t do everything you want to all at the same time.”

There have been several moments where Azzawi says she felt like giving up due to stress. In those moments, jogging to music was and remains a way for her to vent.

She decided to apply for the scholarship because she found the ethical guidelines to be inspiring. The aspect that motivated her was that the scholarship relates to ethics, peace and global relations.

“I was still waiting for someone to come out with a camera and tell me that I was being Punk’d,” Azzawi said. “Really, even when I applied, I never dreamed I would have won.”

Azzawi will use the scholarship money to pay for tuition and fund her project. The scholarship is contributing to the plight of local refugee communities.

Her project is currently collecting applications from students who want to get involved. Applications will be officially posted sometime this week. For more information on the project and getting involved, Azzawi is willing to answer any questions at

“I hope to raise greater awareness about underprivileged communities and humanitarian crises worldwide that don’t get the attention they deserve,” Azzawi said.