Amra Sabic-El-Rayess grew up in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. After surviving ethnic cleansing and more than 1,100 days under the Serbs’ military siege, she emigrated to the United States in 1996. By December 1999, she earned a B.A. in Economics from Brown University. Later, she obtained two master's degrees and a Doctorate from Columbia University. Currently, she is a professor at Columbia working on understanding how and why societies fall apart and what role education can play in rebuilding decimated countries. She has published extensively on education-related issues and has lectured around the world to adult and adolescent audiences. She is the author of the memoir "The Cat I Never Named."