Living His American Dream
CCAC Alum Makes a Difference in People's Lives
When Mounzer Fatfat began his studies at CCAC in 1976, he was a 19-year-old student from Lebanon with no English language skills and little money. He did, however, possess a burning desire to achieve his version of the American dream: a successful career and life.
Mounzer took the first step toward his dream when he enrolled at CCAC's Allegheny Campus. He was fortunate to meet the college's international student advisor who, he says, "gave me the first break that started the change in my life." He worked with his advisor to select classes that would transfer to the University of Pittsburgh, where he planned to continue his education.
Mounzer graduated from CCAC in 1980 with an AS in business. He was invited to serve as student keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony and was deeply moved to share his CCAC experience with hundreds of people. He told the audience that CCAC was his home—a home where many people raised and inspired him, loved him and helped him become a better person. He left CCAC believing that he could do anything in the world if he set his mind to it.
Inspired by his graduation, he transferred to the University of Pittsburgh and completed a BA in computer science and economics in 1982. He completed an MBA in 1984 and worked within the high-tech sector as a computer engineer and project manager. He then started his own business, opening and operating five men's clothing stores. But he did not feel challenged. He returned to the University of Pittsburgh, earned an MEd in 1996, and completed his PhD in administrative and policy studies, with a specialization in humanitarian education in 1998. His dissertation focused on the experiences youth face when migrating from civil war-ridden countries.
His doctoral studies changed his life and marked the beginning of his career in international public policy and programming. In 1997, while still a doctoral student, Mounzer began working for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 1999, he transitioned to a position with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) where he coordinated youth relief efforts in Kosovo. The following spring, he was named minister for youth and sports for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). In February 2002, Mounzer was appointed senior advisor of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, where he provided direct support for Kosovo's provisional government and coordinated programs between numerous UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Kosovar municipalities.
In September 2003, he was appointed senior advisor for the United States Department of State. He served three years in Baghdad, the longest serving American in Iraq. His first year in Iraq was spent as senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority. Mounzer's second and third years were spent at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as chief liaison with the Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sports and the National Olympic Committee of Iraq. He oversaw the refurbishment and development of more than 700 youth centers and sports clubs and the training of more than 1,200 Iraqi officials. Mounzer was also instrumental in assisting the rebirth of the Iraqi Olympic Movement. His efforts laid the foundation for the Iraqi soccer team that won the Asian Cup in July 2007. In recognition of his accomplishments in Iraq, Mounzer received the highest civil award from the U.S. Secretary of Defense and a medal for Outstanding Public Service in 2005.
In his current role, he serves as senior advisor for the U.S. Department of State's new Middle East Peace Faith-Based Initiative, which is under the auspices of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The most challenging part of his current position, he says, is to encourage two people to engage in heart-to-heart dialogue, to recognize their shared humanity and put aside their differences in culture, background and religious affiliation. He says the most rewarding part of his career is that he feels he is making a difference in people's lives—regardless of how small that difference may be.
Since leaving Kosovo in 2003, Mounzer has been instrumental in raising more than $10 million in scholarships for Kosovar and Middle Eastern students to study in the U.S.
His advice to today's students looking for a career in his field is: "Young people tend to get intimidated at the thought of working for the U.S. government and the U.S. State Department. Students should see it as a career opportunity, just like any other, where they can help make a difference and a change in U.S. policies nationally and abroad. Students should not fear job titles—it is what they want to do that is important—they should go for their dreams. Human beings can achieve any goal if they put their mind to it."
Mounzer Fatfat credits CCAC with helping him change his life. "You do not need to go to an Ivy League school to succeed in life," he says. "CCAC is truly a home that provides a good education and is full of people who care, people who love you for who you are, people who want you to succeed."
Despite his world travels, Mounzer, his wife and their two children, Jena and Ray, remain in the Pittsburgh area.
He continues to live his version of the American dream—a dream that makes a difference in people's lives—each and every day.