Mike Brown and his wife, Nancy, have literally helped build a new university with their generosity.
No college organization works harder to connect Saudi students to American culture than La Verne’s Saudi Students Association, and now they’ve got the blue ribbon to prove it.
After just two years in existence, the university’s Saudi Students Association took first place in a Saudi Educational Mission competition, an award that recognizes the nation’s most active student club in the Saudi community.
The association, which boasts 150 University of La Verne students, took the top prize for hosting a wide range of activities, recruiting members and educating the larger community about Saudi culture. The contest pitted La Verne against other Saudi student organizations from the University of Wyoming, Virginia Tech, George Mason University and about 140 other schools.
The first-place award, which included a prize of $2,500, was presented to club leaders at a Saudi students leadership meeting in Tampa, Fla., in February.
“I didn’t think we would win,” said Sami Aldejwi, president of the Saudi Students Association. “It really surprised me.”
Aldejwi, who was born in Jeddah, is a second-year student working toward a Doctor of Public Administration degree. He said the club got the nod for the way it upholds its mission and goals.
“The mission, basically, is to serve and help existing members of the Saudi Students Association and cross educate between American culture and Saudi culture,” Aldejwi said. “We won because we put sincere effort in each activity.”
Association leaders divide their time organizing sports, social and educational activities. The celebration marking Saudi National Day, featuring traditional food and folk dancing, is one of the group’s biggest events. There are also two events surrounding Ramadan – one that educates the community about the Islamic month of fasting and another that gathers Saudis and non-Saudis to break fast.
This semester, the association hopes to have more sports activities. Leaders are currently looking for a soccer field and forming a couple of teams to play.
“They show non-Saudis the other side of Saudi culture, not just the stereotypes of Saudi society,” said Issam Ghazzawi, advisor to the Saudi Students Association and associate professor in the College of Business and Public Management.
Ghazzawi said he was very happy the La Verne group beat out an impressive list of universities across the nation but he was not surprised.
“The Saudi students worked very hard advancing their goals by showing others their culture and what the Saudi club stands for,” said Ghazzawi, adding that this is the only active foreign student organization on campus.
The group is not only an integral part of campus life, it gathers the Saudi community from neighboring schools that do not have a similar organization. Students from Claremont Colleges, Citrus College, Cal Poly Pomona and elsewhere are also welcomed in La Verne’s group. There are about 80 members from the community outside of the University of La Verne, making the Saudi Student Association 230-strong.
Aldejwi said the strength of the group lies in its ability to unite and work together.
“We come from different regions in Saudi Arabia. Some are undergraduates, some masters, some at the doctoral level,” Aldejwi said. “Although we are different — with different backgrounds, different levels of education — when we sit together, we have teamwork.”
The Saudi Students Association meets from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays in the College of Business and Public Management conference room. The board members of the organization are Sami Aldejwi, Marzook Alotaibi, Daniah Dignah, Samia Albalawi and Zakaria Alyami.
— Wendy Leung