Gilman Scholar Attends IT and Criminology Bootcamp in Scotland

August 10, 2023

Maroua El Alaoui recently completed the inaugural Ethical Hacking, Cybersecurity and Criminology Bootcamp at Abertay University in Scotland. This is a first-of-its-kind program offered by NOVA at Abertay. The eight-week program begins with four weeks conducted virtually and the last four conducted in person in Dundee, Scotland. 


Maroua arrived in Scotland on July 9th. Although the program ended on August 4th, she extended her stay to fully experience the beautiful country. Actually, she is thinking about transferring to Abertay University as it is one of the only NOVA international transfer partners.

What does the Gilman Scholarship mean to you?
When I first was interested in studying abroad, the advisor at NOVA mentioned this opportunity and suggested, if I was eligible, I should consider it. I didn't even know that it was offered at NOVA.

Once I saw I was eligible and there was an opportunity for a scholarship, I decided to give it a try. I was so honored to know I was chosen. This is an incredible opportunity, especially since I have always wanted to study abroad.

Here in Dundee, Scotland, the architecture is gorgeous. I'm constantly stopping at every building and just being like, ‘wow’! It's a very Victorian-era type of architecture, a very different look. It's a much smaller town, so it's the same people, and you see them often.

The biggest thing is just how walkable everything is. You have to drive to go anywhere in the States, but here it's 20-30 minutes, and you walk the entire city center.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background:
I'm 23 and a first-generation student. I was born and raised in Northern Virginia. I am very close to my family. Currently, I live with my parents and my younger brother.

My parents immigrated from Morocco a year before I was born. I have a very strong connection to my Moroccan roots because of my parents and their families. Those relationships have heavily influenced my life. Family has always been an important part of my upbringing. Having family from Morocco and having lived in Virginia my whole life, I grew up with the influence of both cultures.

I've always been fascinated by other cultures and enjoy learning about different countries. I'm intrigued by how they do things differently. Additionally, most of my friends are from different countries. 

What brought you to NOVA?
One of the main reasons I decided to study at NOVA was the appeal of affordable tuition. When I first graduated high school, I realized I didn’t know what field of study I wanted to pursue. NOVA made it possible for me to take different types of classes to try and figure out my career goals. I never felt like I had to stick to my first major, and I love that I can still explore new courses at a reasonable cost. So, that was a big appeal.

I’ve been at NOVA for a little while since starting in 2018, right after graduating from Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge. I did my first semester, then took some time off before returning. Then the pandemic happened. So, from there, it was a bit slower process.

What are you studying NOVA?
I switched majors a couple of times because I was trying to figure out what field I wanted to go into. I always knew I had a passion for wanting to help people.

I am currently pursuing a cloud computing degree, but my major was psychology. I believe I will return to studying psychology because I love the field. I think mental health is so important, and I want to have a positive impact.

Also, I am working mainly odd jobs. I want to apply for internship opportunities within the year to find new opportunities that allow me to travel and advance my career.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met. 
I have mainly taken online courses, but the last on-campus course I took was a great experience. It was a software design class with Professor Farzan Soroushi, and he was amazing. He was the best professor I have had. That was my first semester taking IT courses. I had no experience in the field and was a bit nervous about taking the course.

Professor Soroushi was so incredibly helpful. He was okay with staying after each class with me, explaining the concepts I had trouble understanding. I am so grateful he was willing to take the extra time to answer any questions and ensure I understood the concepts. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
I would say don't be afraid to explore different classes and clubs to figure out what career path you want to follow. You don't have to have everything figured out as soon as you start, and NOVA allows you to consider a range of choices. Also, community colleges tend to get a bad reputation, but NOVA offers so many incredible opportunities for advancement and learning experiences.

My younger brother, Omar El Alaoui, recently graduated from Gar-field High School, and I've given him similar advice. He's my only brother, so he's everything to me.

He's probably going to start at NOVA. He would hear stuff like; you only go to NOVA if you can't do better. I told him that's absolutely not true. I encouraged him to take that step and go to NOVA and find out what he wants to do. Once you find that out, then get your associates. From there, you can go anywhere else. It's not going to limit you in any way.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
I'm considering doing my bachelor's there at Abertay University if that's an opportunity that I can work out. Then possibly, I can minor in criminal justice. I found the Criminology course so incredibly fascinating. I'm just so curious, and I want to learn as much as I can.

As of right now, I am still not sure what career path I would like to follow, but I know that I want to be a part of a field where I can positively impact others. I would like to pursue a cloud computing career path that also emphasizes helping others, like healthcare or a social services tech position.

The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship is an undergraduate scholarship program for U.S. citizens or nationals of limited financial means to enable them to study or intern abroad. The program provides awards of up to $5,000 for students who are U.S. citizens, Federal Pell Grant recipients and studying at the undergraduate level at a two- or four-year institution. In the past three years alone, NOVA has had an impressive 14 students receive this highly competitive scholarship for a total of 16 students since program inception in 2001! In fall 2022, of the eight who applied, five received the scholarship. For spring 2023, four have been awarded the prestigious scholarship. We are here to help NOVA students be the next recipient!

For more on the Gilman Scholarship, contact Leeza Fernand, associate director of the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs,

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