The George G. Cameron Award in Near Eastern Studies honors the “founding father” of the Department of Near Eastern Studies. Professor Cameron served as chair from the department’s inception in February 1949 until June 1969. During his tenure as chair, he formed the foundations of a department that covers an enormous chronological depth with inter- and multi-disciplinary breadth, thus fulfilling his initial vision of a “genuine area program—one which would possess sufficient respect for the contributions of the ancient and medieval civilizations, yet would properly put adequate emphasis on the modern or contemporary.” This award, to be given annually, recognizes a graduating senior in Near Eastern Studies who has shown excellence throughout their program.

Ryan Strong, who is graduating with a BBA in Business Administration and a BA in Near Eastern Studies, focusing on Persian and Cultural Studies, is the inaugural recipient of this award. Ryan was recognized at this year’s NES Graduation and Awards Ceremony on April 27, 2017. Professor Janet Richards, the NES Director of Undergraduate Studies, presented the award to Ryan in the company of other awardees, graduates, department faculty, as well as family and friends at the ceremony. Below, Ryan talks about his experience as a student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, and his post-graduation plans:

Across my time at Michigan, I have taken over a dozen Near Eastern Studies courses with some of the most distinguished professors in their field. It is an opportunity that few universities can provide, and one that I am grateful for having. Through completing the Near Eastern Studies major and my accompanying focus in Persian Studies, I have grown personally and have been set up well for future success.

The classes in the department are more than just learning about historical events and dates. The coursework has taught me to approach issues from differing perspectives, pushed me to analyze film and literature in a new light, and significantly improved both my writing and argumentation skills. My emphasis in Persian Studies has also provided me several enriching experiences outside the classroom. From the Iranian Film Festival of Ann Arbor to the annual department-wide poetry event to the weekly intellectual roundtable discussions held in Persian, which I was given the honor of leading one week, there was no shortage of events to both practice language skills and learn more about the culture. Moreover, the cohort of individuals that the classes and events brought together provided some of the most fascinating stories and experiences.

Following graduation, I will be moving down to Houston, Texas to start my career at Shell. It is an exciting time to be entering the oil and gas sector, and I look forward to tackling the challenges the industry faces in the coming years. Although my focus on Persian Studies is not directly related to the job I will be doing, the broader impact of the courses I have taken will benefit me in my day-to-day work. Shell operates across over 70 countries, so I will be working in a diverse environment trying to solve complex, international problems.

Moreover, given the energy industry’s large presence in the Middle East, I am excited about the opportunities that may become available for me down the road. Shell has recently announced several billion dollars of investment in Iranian hydrocarbon exploration and production, so my Persian language skills and cultural familiarity with Iran may soon prove indispensable.

Regardless, I am very eager to move down to Houston. The city holds the accolade of being the most diverse city in the United States, thus there is a very cool fusion of cultures. Iranians and Iranian-Americans make up a sizeable portion of the population, and my hope is to connect with this community to both join in the Persian cultural traditions that I was introduced to at Michigan as well as keep working towards full proficiency in the language.