Distinguished Staff Award
Sam Al-Khoury

Sam Al-Khoury

Director of Student Engagement & Activities, Student Engagement & Activities, UW Bothell

Nominated by Carla Christensen, Assistant Director, Student Engagement & Activities

Awarded 2019

Dear Awards Committee,

I wholeheartedly nominate Sam Al-Khoury of Student Engagement & Activities (SEA) at University of Washington Bothell (UWB) for this recognition. Our departmental tagline is “creating environments for students to be extraordinary.” This also defines the nature and focus of everything Sam does. He does this while centering our department on principles of equity, inclusivity, and social justice – elements that can sometimes be lost in the work of student affairs professionals.

This past year Sam has led his department through a great deal of adversity all for the betterment of the campus community and student experience. SEA was understaffed throughout the entirety of the 2017-2018 academic year (and in actuality, had been since June 2016). Sam worked to lead SEA so that we are now fully staffed with committed professionals who are here to support and better the campus community – staff, faculty, and students.

SEA was placed at the forefront of much of the adversity that campus experienced last year when the Reflection Room, a space that SEA oversees and that many of our Muslim students use for prayer, was vandalized. Through his leadership within the department, division, and as Associated Students of University of Washington Bothell advisor, he opened lines of communication for students and connected them to key players in the community, including Chancellor Yeigh, despite him becoming one of the direct targets of some students. Our staff also occasionally became targets in the students plight for social justice and equity. However, Sam provided our staff a sense of security and community so that we could continue our role in supporting students while he continued to encourage and support us in pursuing our work and areas of interest within our professional development.

Despite the adversity we faced, Sam was continually present for staff, faculty, and students, with words of encouragement and support, as well as helping us all create action plans to resolve some of the issues we faced. For example, when the Activities & Recreation Center (ARC) Student Facilities Advisory Committee (SFAC), after review of multiple proposals, recommended repurposing the ARC Community Resource Center (ACRC) to a food pantry, many of our students who use that space were angry and frustrated. This was another space where many of our Muslim students found community. Although the ACRC did not come back online, he worked with many of the students within the Muslim community, SFAC, our Cascadia College partners, and ASUWB to seek a resolution that all could agree to. This year, the ACRC has reopened as our Health and Wellness Resource Center.

Additionally, through the Student Activities Fee (SAF) funding process, the SAF student committee decided to cut one of our full-time staff positions – an unprecedented move that created a ripple effect of concern across the division, especially in regards to job security. Many of our staff positions are funded through the budgets that the SAF committee reviews and allocates. This decision was detrimental to our department. Already being understaffed, we were struggling to maintain the programs we offered. Losing a staff position meant that many program and services that our department provides for students, including student staffing opportunities, would be lost. Together, Sam and I worked on an appeal to the committee. However, Sam was collaborative and strategic as he leaned on his partnerships with students and staff to find ways that we could recover the funding to secure this position back to our department. Eventually, we were able make enough adjustments to have that position funded, but SEA has still not recovered the stress and uncertainty that resulted from this decision. We are currently working on recommendations in an attempt to ensure that this does not happen again.

Sam is also the primary advisor for ASUWB. This past year, the election process at UWB was contentious and spiteful. Many allegations were flung around and some formally reported by students from each ticket. After the election results were determined, things escalated and eventually resulted in a mediation for the two tickets. Sam worked with all students involved to maintain a sense of civility, humanity, and respect for each other. He is always working to make sure that the students shine and are the center of our work.

He has also established connections outside of the department with folx who continue to seek out his knowledge and advice. I believe that this stems from his mantra, “Be good partners.” Sam truly cares for the success of the students, all who he works with, the greater UWB community, and the UW system as a whole. He ensures we know our counterparts on the Seattle and Tacoma campuses and encourages us to consult with them if needed. He also works to coordinate on campus visits with them so they aren’t just a voice on the line or a message in an inbox.

This summer, as Director of the department, Sam guided us through a process to rewrite our mission statement. Although the previous statement was good, it didn’t encompass the intentionality that leads our daily work practices. Ultimately, we arrived at:

“Students are the center of our work. Our programs are student driven and grounded in equity, inclusivity, and social justice. We construct environments where students co-create collective learning experiences with their peers, which cultivates their agency. We support students as they navigate co-curricular educational opportunities to clarify their identities, purpose, and sense of belonging on campus. Through their involvement, students will be prepared to engage in their communities and contribute to meaningful social change.”

Through his leadership, we all feel better equipped to navigate potential challenges that may occur in the upcoming year. Sam is passionate about UWB and is able to provide not only a historical perspective that has led us to where we are today (he’s been with the university for the past 8 years), but is also able to provide a vision and direction for where we can head. He would probably be embarrassed to learn that I am nominating him for this acknowledgement, but I believe that he embodies every point that this award encapsulates and should be recognized in front of the greater UW community. He has kept me personally committed to this community and the work I am able to accomplish to give back to our campus as well. I am proud and honored to work with someone who shares so much compassion every day and hope that you recognize him for his boundless endeavors.

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