Lejla Niksic studied at Qatar Academy, VCUarts Qatar, and UCL Qatar, and is now returning to QF to serve the community she has been part of for decades
One of Qatar Foundation’s key priorities is lifelong learning, where opportunities for growth start from the early ages, go all the way up to postgraduation, and beyond. Lejla Niksic is one such Qatar Foundation (QF) member who has experienced this whole cycle herself. Niksic came to Qatar from Bosnia in 2001 to enroll at QF’s Qatar Academy school; then went on to pursue both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at QF partner universities; and ended up working at Education City for a few years after graduation.
This year, after working in Qatar’s design and construction industry for a decade, Niksic is returning to Education City as the new Director of Strategic Engagement at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), a QF partner university.
For me, the endeavors and activities of QF in education are very personal, and I am so proud to be an individual that has kind of come out of that support
“I lived and survived the Bosnian War and during that time we were not really given much opportunity for learning. We were quite lucky that we were able to attend makeshift classrooms in basements while bombings were happening outside,” said Niksic.
“So, for me, the endeavors and activities of QF in education are very personal, and I am so proud to be an individual that has kind of come out of that support, and so happy to return to QF and give back to an institution that puts a lot of emphasis on education.”
‘I have grown as QF has grown’
Niksic’s arrival to Qatar from Bosnia in 2001 was arranged through a scholarship fund for Bosnian students to study at Qatar Academy Doha. At the time, Education City as a concept did not exist, and the campus primarily consisted of Qatar Academy Doha, VCUarts Qatar, Al Shaqab, and few other buildings.
“In all honesty, at that time, Qatar was not quite known. I remember when I told my parents that I have applied for a scholarship to continue high school education in Qatar, and although they had an idea that Qatar was in the Middle East, we had to look up a map to find where exactly the country was located,” said Niksic.
Seeing Qatar Foundation grow from a small and intimate nucleus to what it is today, not just locally but also globally, is very close to me. I kind of grew along with the country
As QF was exploring its expansion into multiple universities, Niksic was exploring her career options after graduating high school in 2003, the year Texas A&M University in Qatar opened its doors. Despite being a science student slated to pursue engineering or medicine, Niksic decided to enroll in graphic design at VCUarts Qatar and received a full scholarship for her studies. During her time at VCUarts Qatar, Niksic witnessed the inauguration of Education City, the arrival of more international universities, and the expansion of not only QF, but also Qatar.
“Seeing Qatar Foundation grow from a small and intimate nucleus to what it is today, not just locally but also globally, is very close to me,” Niksic said. “I kind of grew along with the country.”
Niksic graduated in 2007 as a valedictorian and was offered a staff position at VCUarts Qatar where she worked for three years at the Center for Research in Design, focusing on textile design of uniforms and insignia of the Qatar Armed Forces.
Connecting industry and academia
In 2010, Niksic joined the architectural and engineering firm Arab Engineering Bureau (AEB) to switch from academia to the professional industry, and contribute to the growing design and construction field in Qatar.
I hope that we at QF can collectively continue to be curious, creative and resilient on our journey to empower others and lay foundations in education and innovation for future generations
“I thought that I needed some real industry experience, and also after receiving such wonderful support from the State of Qatar, I felt obligated to give back to the growing state,” said Niksic.
At AEB, under the mentorship of its CEO and prominent Qatari architect Ibrahim M. Jaidah, Niksic’s career evolved into various specializations, ranging from cultural heritage preservation, CSR, and external engagement programming to marketing and project management. She got to work in various capacities on major national projects, including the Fire Station Artist in Residence, Msheireb Museums, as well as one of AEB’s most important undertakings – the design and construction of the FIFA World Cup venue Al Thumama Stadium.
During her time at AEB, Niksic also enrolled at UCL Qatar, another QF partner university, to study museum and gallery practice as a part-time student. Her thesis on cultural heritage in post-conflict zones, inspired by her own childhood experiences of the Bosnian War, was recently published in a book called Studying Museums in Qatar and Beyond.
After ten years at AEB, as Niksic now returns to VCUarts Qatar, she wants to play a role in forging partnerships and engagement that will further bridge the gap between academia and various professional industries in Qatar and abroad. Her job requires her to work with students, alumni, as well as external stakeholders, something that comes naturally to her as an alumna who has worked in the industry for years.
The beginning of Niksic’s new chapter at QF also coincides with QF’s 25th anniversary, something she noted she is excited about as the organization has now gone from a “small and intimate nucleus I joined in 2001” to an ever-growing list of entities across various sectors that she is looking forward to collaborate with.
Niksic said: “I hope that we at QF can collectively continue to be curious, creative and resilient on our journey to empower others and lay foundations in education and innovation for future generations.”