News & Recipients

USF Junior Awarded Prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Key Into Public Service Scholarship: Changing the Course of International Development with Big Data

Chris standing in Honors College

Christopher (Chris) Oueis’ aspirations for public service began growing up in Lebanon long before he entered the University of South Florida (USF) as an international studies and quantitative economics and econometrics double major.

The work he has done since in pursuit of his goals to promote development and reduce conflict around the world has earned him selection as a 2024 Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) Key Into Public Service Scholar.

He is one of 20 recipients from over 700 applicants nationwide. Chris will receive a $5,000 scholarship and the opportunity to participate in a PBK Key Into Public Service Conference in Washington D.C., which provides training and mentorship for government careers.


While living in Lebanon and working as a youth volunteer at a Beirut-based Syrian refugee camp with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Chris witnessed “the deportation of the father of one of my students to Syria. A period of widespread inconsistent and biased information caused a surge in illegal deportations of Syrian refugees by Lebanese authorities. Though the UNHCR had accurate data, they failed to communicate them to the Lebanese population due to political and cultural complexities.” 

Chris also experienced the fallout of a failed development project funded by the World Bank to build the Bisri Dam, which promised clean water to 460,000 people of greater Beirut, eventually paving his family’s relocation to the USA.

Chris shared, “The stakes were high: residents, including my family, who were already surviving on less than four dollars a day, also lacked access to clean water, which the Bisri Dam promised to provide.” The dam never got built. The World Bank lacked reliable and actionable information on public attitudes and the extant political environment and local governance in Lebanon, causing the development project to fail. 

With a wealth of impactful experiences, Chris has dedicated his academic pursuits and experiential learning to enhancing foreign-aid funded development programs in conflict-ridden regions, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. His goal is to leverage aggregated data for more informed policy decisions.

Chris's outstanding contributions include internships at the International Institute of New England, where he supported refugees in education and immigration services, and his policy research roles at the American Foreign Policy Council and the American Task Force on Lebanon. He also serves as a conflict tracker intern with the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa and founded USF's Lebanese Student Association. Additionally, Chris leads the campus chapter of the John Quincy Adams Society.


Chris joins past PBK Service Scholars Samuel Rechek, Sarah Glaser, Vaidehi Persad, and Audra Nikolajski from USF. Commenting on USF’s continued success in the competition —having had a recipient every year since the award's inception — Dean Charles Adams of the Judy Genshaft Honors College, and president of the Eta of Florida chapter of the PBK Society at USF said: “Our PBK Key into Public Service Scholars exemplify the interdisciplinary spirit of the liberal arts tradition combined with deep commitments to serve the greater good.” Adams added, “We are proud of the exemplary efforts of the Office of National Scholars (ONS) in mentoring these students.”

Alumni of the PBK Key into Public Service program, now in its fifth year, have earned prestigious honors including Rhodes Scholarships, Truman Scholarships, Fulbright Scholarships, NAACP Marshall-Motley Scholars and more.

Chris, like his predecessors, worked with Sayandeb Basu, director of ONS, who guided his reflective application essays. 

Chris also worked under Basu’s guidance in crafting a successful application for the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute program. This summer, he will attend the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University to take a deeper dive into data analytics in aid for global change. He will also take master's level courses in econometrics with big data at the Pantheon-Assas University Paris II as a MICEFA exchange student to France this fall.

After graduating, Chris plans to pursue a master's degree in development economics or development studies, before joining the U.S. Government’s effort at global development and human security.

Said Chris: “I intend to eventually serve in the ‘underdog’ office in the U.S. foreign policy apparatus – the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of International Affairs – which plays a critical role in safeguarding U.S. economic interests on the international stage.”