Magellan Scholar, International Studies Major Travels to Middle East

Created: October 13, 2015  |  Last Updated: January 5, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged:

WASHINGTON, PA (Oct. 8, 2015) – Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) sophomore Alexandar Tolbert planned to use his Magellan Project to study military and government systems in the Middle East.

He didn’t expect that the travel component of his project to be just as valuable to his skillset in both the classroom and the professional world as his research.

Tolbert, from Beaver, Pa., is an International Studies major with a focus in Middle East Regional studies, and a concentration in Conflict & Resolution Studies. During the summer of 2015 he traveled abroad in Jerusalem, various Palestinian territories, Tel Aviv, and Jaffa to study the use of Israeli security forces and the effect on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Tolbert spent the majority of his time in Jerusalem, but during his time in Israel he focused on analyzing the operational, strategic, and tactical application of Israeli security forces in Israel, Israeli settlements, and the Palestinian territories.

“From this analysis, I’ve been able to better understand not only the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict but also the culture of living in a highly militarized society,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to explore both sides of the story while also observing the security presence in the area.”

Despite initial travel anxiety, Tolbert was able to adapt to the cultural barriers and use what he learned at W&J to communicate with those around him. As he was experiencing life in the Middle East, he was able to make connections with what he learned in the classroom.

“I think my personal exposure to such an extreme cultural shock found in places like Israel and Palestine will help me convey my knowledge to other students when debating or talking about issues concerning the Middle East. I really believe that you can talk about it a thousand times in the classroom but you never really understand it until you step into the situation or country and find out for yourself,” he said.

Not only will Tolbert use his time studying in the Middle East to help in the classroom, but he will also use it to help him pursue his career goals. After graduation, Tolbert, a member of the W&J ROTC program, hopes to work in the government sector while also serving the United States as an Army Officer, and he believes his Magellan Project got him one step closer to pursuing his dream career.

“Opportunities like the Magellan Project really help set W&J graduates apart,” Tolbert said. “Washington & Jefferson College is one of the best colleges for international academic opportunities.”

Tolbert would like to thank Professor Abdullah Alsaffar, M.A, Professor Zheya Gai, Ph.D., Coordinator of Co-Curricular Innovation Tyler Tenney, and ROTC Instructor Major Joseph Masserini for all of their support and guidance. More information on Tolbert’s project can be found on his blog:


About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.


About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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