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SOLES Grad's Leadership Promotes Student Involvement

SOLES Grad's Leadership Promotes Student Involvement

Rama Sabano's leadership style is evident to everyone around her, but when it comes to taking credit for her work, it's truly the last thing she wants to discuss.

That, in itself, is an act of leadership. It's among many reasons why Sabano, who graduated May 20 with a master's degree in higher education leadership from the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), attracts attention.

She has a style, a sense of understanding and caring about others that earns her the respect and trust of peers and has people want to gravitate toward her and to listen. She was the USD Women's Center's 2017 graduate student Woman of Impact Award winner. Earlier this month, she received the Evelyn Kirkley Leadership Award at the United Front Multicultural Center's Diversity Banquet.

Sabano has spent two years in classes designed to further develop her leadership skill set, but she's been a graduate assistant in USD's Student Leadership, Involvement and Changemaking (SLIC) office in the Student Life Pavilion. Her primary focus as a GA has been student involvement. Her position exists through a partnership between SOLES and Student Affairs. This year, she’s served as Graduate Student Council Chair — liken it to the Associated Students President position for undergraduate students — so it's understandable to see what others think about Sabano in a leadership role.

"She's been an amazing asset to USD and has made an amazing impact on our office in her time here," said Manda Westman, SLIC’s assistant director of student organizations and involvement. "Rama is a very charismatic person. She has that ability with people she comes in contact with that really shows how much she cares. It's genuine, it's not just a part of her position. You can tell that with the relationships she's built."

Perhaps there was no better visible example of the latter than to see a group of students, staff, family and friends waiting in Eagan Plaza next to the Jenny Craig Pavilion on Sunday to celebrate her graduation day.

The support of others has been huge for Sabano, who is an international student from Syria, but born and raised in Kuwait. She graduated from Kuwait English School in 2003, then earned a business marketing degree from American University of Kuwait (AUK) in 2007. Following her college graduation, she began working student affairs roles at AUK. She served as an admissions counselor, then coordinator of student organizations and leadership development, to finally coordinator and assistant director of student life. She left in 2016 to pursue the SOLES degree.

She heard about USD and SOLES’ Higher Education Leadership program after a AUK colleague graduated from SOLES, too. Sabano’s interest in the program and being in San Diego was to her liking.

"He told me it's a very different program. He told me about the classes he took, and what I've since told others is that they really practice what they preach in the classes," Sabano said. "They talk about the change, the world, all of these things that are happening in the world that are very important and they talk about it in class."

The impact of this teaching resonated with Sabano, who explored it in a SOLES class, Making Meaning and the Collegiate Experience, and in a book by author Sharon Parks. “There needs to be a way to bring what's happening outside into the classroom and use all of these things we're learning with examples that are happening in our lives. I think that's what SOLES does and I truly appreciate it. They combine the reality with the theory. I think that's what makes it so different. They practice what they preach. It's very hard to find that and I think USD does it very well."

Sabano has taken what she’s learned and has applied it to her GA responsibilities. She connects with her USD student involvement consultants to help Toreros find resources and, perhaps, their passion to maximize their college experience.

Sabano's international background initially made her work harder because of her need to establish trust and respect while adjusting to U.S. and USD’s cultures, but her previous higher education work helped with the transition. Sabano credits her colleagues, Westman and Graduate Student Life Coordinator Mariann Sanchez Andreu, for guidance and support.

"Knowing she had some professional experience, it didn't take that much time for her to hit the ground running, but she spent a lot of time understanding the culture and the community and understanding the needs of students," Westman said. "In her second year, she's developed a great relationship with residential life and built upon the partnership that we have with the LLCs (Living Learning Communities), really trying to integrate our involvement consultants as a resource and getting the word out there."

Despite a short amount of time to make an impact, Sabano's growth as a leader was visible. It was most felt at the start of the spring semester. Instead of hosting the Spring Alcala Bazaar inside the Hahn University Center Forums as it had been for years, Sabano organized the popular event for the Paseo de Colachis space, a move that energized student involvement by having it outside. The event was well attended and it will likely return to the space next year.

Not that Sabano will take the credit. "It's not about what I did, I like to walk away knowing that I did everything I could to try and better everyone else's experience," she said.

Sayegh said recommendations Sabano has through a SOLES capstone project on student involvement experiences will be utilized. Sabano's GA job concludes today and she's now looking for a new opportunity, but knows USD has been a worthwhile experience. Coming from another country, finding her niche and growing in many ways serve as a boost for her future.

"I walked in a bit scared, but I'm walking out confident," Sabano said. "My work experience and classes have helped me get better at what I do. It's why I came here — to learn how I can better support students."

— Ryan T. Blystone

Rama Sabano, third from right, is flanked by colleagues, friends and family following her graduation from SOLES' Master's in Higher Education Leadership.Rama Sabano, third from right, is flanked by colleagues, friends and family following her graduation from SOLES' Master's in Higher Education Leadership.

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