Meet some of the inspiring Women of AUI in 25 Years


Last 8th of March, on International Women’s Day, the AUI community was invited to nominate AUI women that most inspired and impacted their life and the community. We recognize that all our AUI women are inspiring, and these nominations are representative of the spirit and energy that all the women in our community bring.


Upon the closing of the poll, we received a total of 50+ nominations from more than 300 faculty members, staff members, students, and alumni. The AUI community nominated women of their choice who they felt had outstanding leadership skills and inspired us every day. We would like to take this opportunity to honour some of the female trailblazers of AUI, and to salute their accomplishments, hard work and contributions to the university, the country and the world. Women are the backbone of our society, and the world would cease to exist without them. Not only do women help raise families but they also shape history by standing up for what they believe in, influencing politics, making important scientific discoveries, and leaving legacies of art and literature. This only begins to sum up the many remarkable things women are capable of.

Without further due, please join us in congratulating 25 nominated women who were selected by our community.



“The heart and soul of AUI is a reflection of our remarkable students, the amazing staff that helps us every day, and the genuine and sincere colleagues we have among us.”


Giovanna Storti is a lecturer teaching academic writing, composition and communication courses. She holds postgraduate degrees from Canada in linguistics, education and management, and has taught at institutions in Japan, Italy, and Canada. Before joining AUI, she was a professor and academic coordinator at La Cité College in Ottawa and an advisor for the Ministry of Economic and Social Development. Her research interests explore topics related to linguistics, education, culture, diversity, adult learning, and workplace training for executives. Giovanna has published various articles in academic books and international journals and has presented her work at international conferences around the world. Giovanna is the recipient of the Outstanding Paper Award at the 2012 Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence, 1st Place Winner of the 2013 AABS/Emerald Case Competition, and 2nd Place Winner of the 2018 AUI Business Ethics Case Writing Competition sponsored by SIEMENS Germany. Giovanna’s greatest life accomplishments are her children and family, as well as, motivating and teaching students in pursuit of knowledge. With a passion and curiosity for diverse cultures and their extraordinary people, Giovanna’s teaching and learning journey have taken her to over fifty countries across five continents leading her to a majestic little village in the Middle Atlas region of beautiful Morocco.


"Turn your wounds into wisdom." (Oprah Winfrey)


Laila El Hamdani is a program manager at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences with over 25 years of experience in the field of administration. Having held positions previously at OCP, and at AUI as Assistant to the Director of Information Technology Services, she has been able to tailor her skills to meet the needs of the students, faculty, and staff. Her being involved in many activities has increased her efficiency in several of her assigned roles: Organizing programs and activities in accordance with the mission and goals of the University and contributing to developing new programs to support the strategic direction of the institution. Laila earned her master's degree in Business Communication. She has attended several national and international conferences where she has contributed to the promotion of AUI programs and SHSS programs. She received many training related to Management and Education: PMP, Leading to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education, and others. Her recent paper on Academic Boundaries in the Moroccan Education System was accepted to be presented at the Third International Conference for Educational Sciences in Antalya in Turkey.

“We fall, we break, we fail but then, we rise, we heal, we overcome.”


Karima Derkaoui is a registration officer in the Enrolment Department. She holds a bachelor's degree in English Language studies from University Al Cady Ayad in Beni Mellal. She is originally from Marrakesh. She joined Al Akhawayn University as a Hall Director in the Housing Department in September 1995. She played key roles to set housing regulations and processes mainly those concerning student’s daily encountered problems. She then joined the office of the Registrar in September 2001 as a registration officer. She has been selected as a member of the Honour Program committee for more than 8 years and was elected by class of 2013 as “The best Administrative Staff who had a positive impact on them”. In 2020, she was selected by the president as a member of the current Business Strategy implementation team: Transversal 1- Support Services as key enablers of the vision. Through her experience at AUI, she learned how to overcome drawbacks and difficulties that crossed her path. Over the years, she built good relationships with AUI community on professional and personal levels.



Hayat Bouaouiss is the Assistant to the SBA Dean. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Studies from Moulay Ismail University in Meknes. She is originally from Ifrane where she was born, raised, and grew up. She joined Al Akhawayn University as an intern for 4 years. She played key roles in SBA and was therefore hired full-time in 2016. She was recognized by students as "staff member who has impacted class of 2018 the most". Through her experience at AUI, she learned that hard work really pays off. It takes time, but it will eventually pay off. Hayat believes that developing strong relationships is the foundation of everything she does, both professionally and personally. She has always been grateful to AUI for giving her the opportunity to discover her potential in many things and mainly her passion for hiking. She has climbed the highest mountains in Morocco along with AUI students.


“AUI is a high-energy, very demanding environment. What keeps me going is the students: most really engaging, a few brilliant, many incredible human beings.”


Violetta Cavalli-Sforza, born in Milan, Italy, was not quite 15 years old when her parents moved to Stanford, California, where she completed high school and degrees in Civil Engineering, then Computer Science, at Stanford University. After a few stints in industry, she started a Ph.D. in Intelligent Systems at the University of Pittsburgh. She remained in Pittsburgh for much of the next several years, working in natural language processing at Carnegie Mellon University, until research grants, including a Fulbright research scholarship, brought her to Morocco. Morocco has been her permanent home since 2005, and AUI and its surroundings since 2008. In addition to teaching and steadily engaging in applied research in computer and language, she worked towards developing undergraduate research opportunities, coordinated the Computer Science Program, contributed to SSE re-accreditation by ABET, and University accreditation by NECHE, co-chairing the phase that led to AUI being accredited in 2017. Now as Coordinator of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship (ATLAS) and Assistant Vice-President of Academic Affairs, she devotes much time to faculty and student concerns, but, when she finds a little free time, she spends it with her four-legged friends (cats, dogs, donkeys, and goats), reading, and walking. 

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi


Asmae Khaldoun was born and raised in Morocco. She studied physics and chemistry and earned her M.Sc. degree in Renewable Energy from the University Mohamed V in Rabat in 1996 and then earned her Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Abdel Malek Essaadi in Morocco in 2002. She earned a second Ph.D. in Physics “Soft Condensed Matter” on January 10th, 2013 at the University of Amsterdam. She worked, as Post Doc at the University of Amsterdam, under the direction of Profs. Daniel Bonn. This group, and particularly its work on complex fluids, is acknowledged to be among the premier experimental chemical engineering research programs worldwide. She also worked as Project Leader for two years at Avantim Technologies in Amsterdam. In September 2009, she started working at Al Akhawayn University as Assistant Professor and got promoted to Associate Professor in 2016. 


“What inspires me every day at AUI is our close community made of people from different backgrounds, with a variety of beliefs and personalities, whose sole purpose is to help students find and achieve their dreams.”


Naziha Houki moved from her hometown Rabat to join AUI as a lecturer of Strategic Communication in 2014. She obtained her BA in Communication Studies from Al Akhawayn University in 2008. After working in advertising for 2 years, she was granted the Fulbright Scholarship for her MSc in Integrated Marketing Communication at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Before joining AUI, Naziha worked as a marketing consultant and category manager for publicly traded multinational organizations in logistics and retail. In 2015, she founded the Al Akhawayn Short Film Festival, which she has become a nationwide student competition, inviting internationally renowned Moroccan filmmakers, with media exposure on 2M Radio, Hit Radio, Huffington Post, Le Matin, and more. Today, Naziha is the co-chair of the No Violence Alliance and Interim Director of Development and Communication at the University.


“Experience at AUI -Teaching me to live in isolation (even before the lockdown)!”


Smita Kumar belongs to Bokaro Steel City, a small city in northern India. She has lived and worked in eight cities across four countries and three continents, but she has never been the only Indian in a city. Prior to her career in Academia, she worked in the field of Human Resources in multinationals which, according to Smita, blessed her with enough grey hair (from leading a team of 450 people). Apart from yoga and mindfulness, she also teaches courses in Human Resource Development. She loves a hot cup of mocha and ice creams. Before her doctoral degree, she used to read bestsellers but now, she reads research papers and in her free time she loves making pottery, embroidery, and gardening but now, she writes papers! Upon her arrival in Ifrane, she was given a new name "Besma" by an Amazigh family (as Smita in Darija means 'her name')! Little did she know that she was giving Smita’s name back because both Besma and Smita mean the same (smile).


"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." (Rev. Dr. Ian McClaren, 1898)


Karen Thomas Smith arrived at AUI in August 1996 and has been the University’s first (and only) Chaplain to the Christian community ever since.  She is also the first ordained woman minister to serve in Morocco.  Karen received her Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, in 1991, and a Master of Arts in Theology from St. John’s (Benedictine) School of Theology, St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, in 1995.  In addition to leading Christian worship on campus, Karen co-coordinates with Imam Khaoua the university’s Interfaith Office. Karen has given conferences and led interfaith dialogue training in Morocco, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, and Madagascar.  Since 2015, she has been President of the EEAM (Eglise Evangélique au Maroc, the Protestant Church in Morocco), president of the EEAM’s Migrant and Refugee Program, CEI (Comité d’Entraide Internationale), and co-president, with Cardinal Cristobal Lopez, of the Rabat Ecumenical Theological Institute. In 2016, Karen and Dr. Connell Monette accepted the Ministry of Islamic Affairs invitation to create a course for the training of all Imams, Murchidat, and International students at the Mohammed VI Institute.  Together, they also wrote an instruction book, An Introduction to Christianity, which has been taught there since spring, 2019.



Monica Festa was born in California and raised in the Seattle area; it has been a great privilege to find herself here in the pristine jewel of Morocco, Ifrane. As an English composition and creative writing lecturer, Monica uses her background in drama and the science of instruction to deliver lessons that will reflect her passion for learning, develop autonomy in students and build a strong rapport that hopefully lasts for years to come. Her passions and hobbies include performing arts, researching philosophies of best practices in teaching, and delving ever deeper into understanding Islam. She considers her career, education, children, conversion, and marriage to be her greatest accomplishments.



“Studying at AUI has allowed me to meet so many wonderful women; from faculty members who guided me through my semesters and the incredibly helpful staff to the friends I made and who have allowed me to better myself constantly. For them I am grateful.”


Ayah Isbayene is a sophomore majoring in International Relations and minoring in Gender Studies. She is from Rabat. Although she has lived abroad for most of her life and she feels most at home in Ifrane. On top of classes, she works for the CLE as a writing center tutor, she is the Head of the Academics Committee in the SGA, the general secretary of Green House club and the co-editor in chief of Al Akhawayn Chronicle. AUI was, for her, an opportunity to start anew, and she is incredibly excited for what is to come.




Lamia Bazir is a change-maker and an advocate for human development. In 2018, she was appointed by Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem as the new Executive Director of the National Observatory for the Rights of the Child. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from Al Akhawayn University, she pursued her graduate studies at Columbia University in New York, and Sciences-Po in Paris. She also enrolled at Harvard University for an executive program in 2016. Lamia worked for the Head of Government of Morocco (2014-2017) on developing partnership programs between Morocco and the USA, focused on education, employability, and inclusive growth. In 2013, she was a representative at the United Nations’ ECOSOC in New York and worked for the Arab League’s Ambassador in Paris in 2011, and with Transparency International in Africa, particularly in Niger. In parallel to her professional career, Lamia is also an activist and a humanitarian in rural Morocco. She is the Founder and President of Empowering Women in the Atlas, a foundation that promotes human development and the leadership of rural women and girls. Her advocacy and achievements got her respect and recognition in Morocco and beyond. In 2015, she won the United Nations Award for Volunteering. In 2016, she was the youngest to be selected among the "60 Most Influential Women of Morocco" by Challenge Magazine. In 2019, she was nominated among the 100 Most Influential Young Africans.



“I vote for all the Cleaning Ladies who have always been caring, nice, and smiling when they are on service to clean, arrange, and deliver necessities for all departments. I want to thank them because they are mostly overseen in our community! (A word from a nominator)


60+ smiling ladies who work hard to ensure that all areas of the university are kept clean, safe, and tidy. A highly motivated team that helps create a hygienic as well as an aesthetically pleasing environment for the AUI community and its visitors.



“The AUI community has become a second family, that has offered support in times of tragedy, and that has shared in tears of happiness.”


Veronique Van Lierde is an Associate Professor of Mathematics in the School of Science and Engineering. She was born in Geraardsbergen, a small town in Belgium. In 2004, she completed her Ph.D. at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, also in Belgium. Veronique published several articles on Commutative Algebra. Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains presented her with her first experiences of the country. A few years later, in 2004, she joined AUI. For her, AUI is not just an employer. Veronique’s biggest professional joy results from interacting with students and watching them grow as learners and as humans. Ever since she was 12 years old, she wanted to become a teacher. At the rare moments when she is not looking after her daughter Marie, she enjoys crocheting, hiking, and singing. During this time of social isolation, she misses direct interactions with the students. She feels honored to have been nominated, and she hopes that everyone is staying safe!


“AUI: the pride of belonging!”


Hind Lebdaoui is an Assistant Professor of Finance & Economics at the School of Business administration. She received a Ph.D. from Shanghai University of Finance & Economics (China) in 2014. She was teaching Finance in Shanghai University of Finance & Economics for a couple of years before joining AUI in 2016 where she currently teaches Finance courses. Hind spent the last decade in Shanghai, where she focused on the advancement of finance and economics both in China and developing countries through her professional experience in Chinese companies and academia. Her research focuses on Islamic banking and its relevance to both financial development and economic growth, stock market performance, ethical finance, and behavioral finance/marketing decisions. She also writes about women empowerment in Morocco and explores the effectiveness of tools initiated by the public authorities to enhance the lives of rural Moroccan women. Hind was selected as one of the top 100 most influential women in the Islamic finance sector by Cambridge IFA WOMENi in 2018. She is also an honorary advisor to the Think Tank Hong Kong Reflect in Hong Kong dedicated to youth leadership.



Zakia El Moustaquim is an Executive Education Coordinator at the Executive Education Center in Casablanca. She manages all administrative and logistical aspects of the degree programs and contributes to the development of the Continuing Education Offerings. Her focus is on creating a favorable ecosystem for the institution’s sustainability. She has deep knowledge in Academic Administration, continuing and adult learning and has worked in different industries. Zakia has a great interest in making a difference in people’s lives through her work with executive students. Zakia takes her work at heart and strives to push students to reach their full potential through continuous support, counseling and coaching in times of need. She truly believes in the power and impact of listening to people with interest and objectivity. Through active listening, she believes that one doesn’t only see different perspectives, but also puts people at ease to share their views and their hurdles. Zakia holds an MBA from National University, San Diego, USA and a bachelor's degree in Animal Biology from Cadi Ayad University in Marrakech, Morocco. Zakia is completing her MSHRD at Al Akhawayn and is working on her final project.


A robust human being operating system = strong* (faith + education + background + life experiences)


Hanaa Talei is from Al Hoceima - a Riffian town in the north of Morocco. For her, it is the institution where she got her bachelor's in general engineering and Master of Computer Network. Besides diplomas, AUI is a place where Hanaa had a chance to construct a large social network by working with people from different departments and by serving many students as she is currently a Computer Science Lecturer, a job she really loves.




“One of the highlights of my experience at AUI has been the connection I have with my students, who very respectfully and intelligently engage with complex ideas and sensitive issues.”


Kenza Oumlil is an Associate Professor in Communication at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. She served as the Communication Studies program coordinator from 2014-2016 and from 2017-2019. Kenza holds a Ph.D. in Communication from Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. She has published widely on representation, gender, and media including articles in the Journal of North African Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Journal of Middle East Media, and Al-Jazeera English. Kenza received the excellence in research award – first place for her paper presented at the 20th Annual AUSACE Conference annual convention of the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators (AUSACE) in Doha, Qatar in 2015. More recently, in November 2019, Kenza was invited to give a public talk on her forthcoming book project by the Center of Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) Colloquium at Yale University. She is currently working on a manuscript titled “North American Muslim Women Artists Talk Back: Assertions of Unintelligibility.”



Awatif Boudihaj has a doctorate degree in Education from Leeds University, School of Education, UK. She has taught at the tertiary level both in Saudi Arabia and in the Sultanate of Oman. She joined Al Akhawayn University in August 2003. In a career that has spanned over twenty years, she has served as a developmental education professor, writing center director, tutoring center coordinator, center of academic development academic coordinator, and academic advisor. Awatif is both a scholar and an experienced practitioner having worked with tertiary students on study skills, information literacy skills, critical thinking, interpersonal communication and soft skills in general. She is concerned with promoting active learning and a student-centered learning environment, particularly through the inclusion of project-based learning, collaborative learning and experiential learning. She is also an active member of the AUI faculty union (SAEC). Her research interests involve writing, discourse analysis, needs analysis, Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and developing students' research skills.


“They say publish or perish, I’d rather say nourish and cherish. AUI is more than a workplace, it is a wonderful community, and that is the least I can say.”


Ibtissama Sebti graduated from the University of York in the UK in 1992 with a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and EFL. After 28 years of experience as an English language faculty, Ibtissama says ‘I know what works’, and ‘what works is that students learn from people they admire’. For her, creating a positive atmosphere in class opens the gate to all types of learners and all styles of learning. At the heart of a successful lesson, Ibtissama adds, is creativity and innovation, or what she calls ‘teaching and assessing outside the box’. Along with her 20 years of teaching in AUI, Ibtissama has enriched her professional experience by holding several non-teaching duties and serving on different university committees. She held the position of Business English Coordinator, LC Academic Coordinator, LC/CEA Accreditation Sub-Committee Chair, member of NEASC Strategic Plan Committee, and LC Representative at the Academic Council for two consecutive terms. In 2016 Commencement, Ibtissama was a recipient of the LC faculty of the year award. Ibtissama is a Ph.D. candidate. Her research project primarily investigates the role assessment plays in enhancing student learning in higher education. Ibtissama’s true passion is to make others smile; it’s what fills her soul and brings her joy.

"Kul khal yzul"


Nancy Hottel-Burkhart, currently retired, has taught at AUI since 1995. She considers her longest leadership role to have been in the classroom. She figured out a way to get people who hate writing to engage and develop and having helped student writers and colleagues improve their writing skills for over 25 years at AUI is a huge source of professional and personal satisfaction. In the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nancy chaired the Human Resources Development major (1999-2001), coordinated English composition (2005-2010), set up and administered for the campus (2007-2013), and at The Al Akhawayn School of Ifrane, headed the Parents' Association (2010-2014) in its difficult transitions through the French system and back. The leadership experience which she says allowed her to make the most profound difference at AUI was her work as Co-Chair of NoVA (No Violence Alliance 2013-2018), which she says is the most professionally dedicated and ethically committed group of AUIers she has ever worked with.


“I am grateful to the many AUIers who crossed my path to be living proofs that women, and men, deserve not to be judged by the femininity and masculinity of their traits, as these co-exist in every one of us. May they, and the rest of the AUI community, always have the courage and power to celebrate the androgyny of humanity!”


Afifa El Bayed is the Director of Marketing Communications and Outreach as well as a Communication Studies faculty member at the American College Casablanca. She is an alumna and Valedictorian of class 2009. Over the past two years and a half, she served at AUI as a lecturer and Director of the Development and Communication Department. Before her comeback to AUI, Afifa was a Media and Communication Sciences research assistant, lecturer and project coordinator at the University of Erfurt in Germany. Her fields of research include learning, knowledge-building and cultural production in mediated interpersonal communication contexts, as well as human-AI interaction including human-robot communication and collaboration. Afifa’s scientific work was presented in prestigious conferences such as ICA and ECREA and published with leading scientific publishers such as Springer. Inspired by the allure of Safi and its region since birth, Afifa is a quasi-professional dancer, a theatre addict, a seasonal writer and a fulltime bookworm.


“Expect more than others think is possible”


Deborah MacArthur is a recognized leader in change management who implements innovative, cross-cultural solutions across Africa, Asia and the Americas. After 20 years of successfully consulting in America and the Middle East, Deborah retired as a Partner from Accenture and left her Fortune Top 100 companies to relocate to Morocco, a country she fell in love with over 20 years ago. As a resident of Ifrane, Deborah wears three hats: first, a philanthropist who works with bringing education and careers to marginalized groups. Second, as an entrepreneur, Deborah has two companies in Casablanca. The MacArthur Company SARL brings global best practices in change management to multinationals across Africa and Asia. Her second company, Global-Lights, the Lighthouse for Moroccan Leaders, is a boutique placement agency that coaches hires and develops the next generation of Moroccan leaders - and is proud to have mentored and placed over 100 AUI graduates at multinationals in Morocco. Third, Deborah is a professor at AUI's Executive MBA program and teaches corporate strategy "capstone" plus entrepreneurship in AUI's undergraduate School of Business. Deborah enjoys traveling around the continent of Africa and is an avid scuba diver with her teenage daughter, Virginia, who attends the Al Akhawayn High School.



Bouchra Saad holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from University Hassan II in Casablanca. She joined the International Institute of Business in Casablanca where she learned the principles and the basics of an international assistant job. Before joining AUI, she worked in many companies, but she was not satisfied with the work environment. Her journey at AUI started with a call she received from late Dr. Raissouni, who invited her for an assistant position interview at the School of Science and Engineering; the position she occupies till today! Bouchra says that since then, AUI warmly welcomed her and she became a member of this community and she is proud. She enjoys working with its members: SSE Dean, SSE faculty, SSE students/alumni, SSE staff and all other colleagues at AUI. In 2019, she was recognized by students as the staff member who impacted them the most. Bouchra summarizes her journey at AUI in few words: mutual respect, commitment and never expect something in return.


“Changing the world is a dream that started for me in 2004 with writing for “The AUI News” to change campus life. In 2020, I found myself addressing the world’s leaders advocating for mental health at the World Economic Forum’s Davos conference. As I was speaking, I fondly remembered how it all started at the Student Activities Office and how AUI has changed my life.”


A Casablanca native, Fatima Azzahra El Azzouzi is a security engineer at Microsoft Canada. She graduated from AUI with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, and later with a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in the US. For six years, she was the only female technical consultant at Microsoft Middle East and Africa, designing and implementing cloud and security solutions for enterprise customers across the region. She enjoys giving back to the community in different ways. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Al Akhawayn Alumni Association and was part of reviving AAA through the AAA Next initiative in 2018. She also volunteers in the areas of mental health and diversity and serves on the governing body of the Global Shapers Community as Co-Chair of the Equity and Inclusion Committee.