At the beginning of Asher Orkaby’s first Ph.D. history class at Harvard, the instructor asked students to share their backgrounds. The other students came from top schools: Stanford, Yale, Cornell, and so on. When Asher said, “Macaulay Honors College, City University of New York,” he could feel people sneer. But he thought, “Yes, you spent a quarter of a million dollars on your fancy university. I got the same quality education from CUNY. And here we both are in the Ph.D. program at Harvard.”
When Asher was deciding where to go for his undergraduate degree, the quality of the education was his top criterion. On a visit to the history department at Brooklyn College, he met Professor KC Johnson, who became Asher’s mentor. “He has the same research, teaching, and publication record as any Ivy League professor,” said Asher. “CUNY attracts high quality faculty. Being part of the honors college then gives you the space to pursue your interests.”
Another formative experience was study abroad. Asher is an authority on the history of modern Yemen thanks to his Opportunity Fund study, followed by graduate work, in the Middle East. “I have a debt of gratitude to the honors college,” he said.
Today, Asher is a research associate at the Harvard University Davis Center and a lecturer at the Harvard Extension School. His book Beyond the Arab Cold War was published by Oxford University Press in 2017. He contributes regularly to publications and news outlets on Middle East policy and has been interviewed in English and Arabic media. @AsherOrkaby