January 31, 2007
By David Driver
Used with permission
Jamal Ben Al-Haj was born in London, went to high school in New York and has lived in five countries. But his knowledge of local politics, in a district just a few miles from George Mason, is essential for a current internship he secured in December.
Al-Haj, a sophomore majoring in integrative studies with a concentration in legal studies, is an intern with Kris Amundson, who represents Virginia’s 44th District in the southeast part of Fairfax County. Amundson was elected in 1999, and is the vice chair of the Virginia General Assembly's House Democratic Caucus. Her committee assignments include Rules; Counties, Towns and Cities; and Science and Technology.
“Jamal was selected through a nomination process. Students had to write why they were interested in this internship and how it matched with their academic goals,” says Sarah Sweetman, director of student services, New Century College.
Al-Haj, in addition to the internship, is taking 16 credit hours this semester. He is also a Student Government liaison this academic year. After he graduates from Mason, Al-Haj plans to attend law school in New York.
“Jamal knows his goals. That is why I thought of him immediately for this internship. He is very focused, very mature for his age,” says Sweetman, who has advised Al-Haj since he came to Mason in 2005. “He knows exactly what he is aiming for. But he is one of those students who wants a well-rounded education.”
The bulk of Al-Haj’s work for the delegate involves web design and writing web content, which he does from his off-campus apartment or at Amundson’s home office in Alexandria. His main focus has been a project that allows seniors at two high schools – Mt. Vernon and West Potomac in the 44th district – to interact with Amundson concerning three main issues: education, transportation and human services.
“I understand how high school kids think,” says Al-Haj, who notes that he is not much older than the students at Mt. Vernon and West Potomac.
For four days, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 30, government students at the two schools will be able to interact with Amundson on those topics.
“There is one thing on which all Virginia lawmakers agree. We have many more needs than available resources. How can we best make budget decisions that reflect the priorities of democracy’s next generation? That is what students and policymakers will discuss,” writes Amundson on the web site Al-Haj helped develop.
Al-Haj has met the government teachers at the two schools, and may visit some of the students during the four-day session with Amundson if his Mason course schedule allows.
“He is just amazing,” says Amundson. “First of all, he took the governor’s budget amendments and the key fiscal issues that will be resolved and he boiled them down … it is probably (written) clearer than anything I have read in a major newspaper. It was really insightful. He is highly analytical and also a very, very bright young kid. And he has technical skills.”
Both of his parents are journalists for Al-Aribaya Television and are based at the United Nations. His father, Talal, was born in Iraq, moved to Kuwait before he was two months old and moved to England in the 1970s. Al-Haj’s mother, Anita, is from the Netherlands. Both have worked for the British Broadcasting Company in Europe.
Al-Haj also lived with his family in Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium. They lived for a short time in McLean, Va., before moving to New York. His older brother, Sharif, transferred to Mason this academic year after attending a community college in New York.