At first, Nawara Alawa felt she was forced to be a Hurricane.
She was raised by conservative Syrian parents who expected her to attend a university near her home in Miami Lakes. Hoping for more of a college experience, Alawa applied to 15 out-of-state schools. She planned to use an acceptance to an Ivy League as a bargaining chip.
This same reluctant girl is now proud to have been inaugurated as Student Government (SG) president on Wednesday night.
“Look at me now, I’m that girl that has half-orange, half-green Converse that say Canes on the back, and I’m screaming at every game, and I’m Student Government president,” she said. “It’s such a ‘180’ from where I started.”
This change came after Alawa unenthusiastically succumbed to her parents’ wishes. She decided to attend UM’s Great Start, an overnight pre-orientation program where commuters stay in the dorms – just to spite her parents.
There, Alawa heard an alumna speak about making the best of the commuter experience. Alawa realized that getting involved on campus while living at home was a possibility.
“She found a way,” Alawa remembers telling herself. “I’ll find a way.”
Alawa quickly fell in love with the University of Miami, first by joining her Association of Commuter Students family.
She also was drawn to participate in the Butler Center for Leadership and Service.
Working with the Butler Center, Alawa brought an ex-neo-Nazi to campus for the “Turning Away From Hate” event as a freshman.
That same year, Alawa became involved in SG Senate.
Winning over others
Alawa credits getting so absorbed in campus life to her outgoing personality.
“I was always the girl that had friends all over the place,” she said.
Senior Jake Krupa, chief of the Iron Arrow Honor Society, said that Alawa – a recent Iron Arrow tappee – values individuals. Iron Arrow is the highest honor attainable at UM.
She said that helped her get to know all of her supporters during her campaign for the SG presidency.
“Nawara makes a very concentrated effort to get to know someone, and she never thinks she’s above someone else,” Krupa said.
Alawa calls this quality “WOO,” which stands for winning over others.
Borrowing from personality descriptions from a leadership assessment quiz she once took, Alawa said her motto is: There’s no such thing as a stranger, only a new friend to be made.
“I love people,” said Alawa, whose friends say she has “awkward swag” because of the way she’ll introduce herself to complete strangers.
Roland Calderin, a freshman who works at the Butler Center, is one of many people Alawa has won over. They met as fellow commuters and participated in the STRIVE service community together.
“She’s always looking out for me and trying to make me the best that I can be,” Calderin said.
Staying on track
Although Alawa is sometimes on campus for more than 16 hours a day, she has been able to maintain the family life her parents highly value.
“It’s such an awesome opportunity to say that I go to school with one of my brothers and I can watch my other brother go through high school,” Alawa said. Her younger brother, Karam, became a Hurricane a year after she did.
Also, having her family around has served as a reminder that she needs to be as committed to her academics as she is to her extracurricular activities.
“My mom and my dad would always keep me on track with regards to school,” she said.
For Alawa, a pre-med student majoring in microbiology and immunology, good grades are her key to attending medical school and becoming a physician after graduation.
She hopes to work in a clinic or hospital, but also wants to participate in Doctors Without Borders or a similar international experience because of her interest in public health. Doctors Without Borders is an organization that provides medical help in countries where it’s not readily available.
“There’s a very human element to medicine, and I think that will end up being my biggest strength as a doctor – the ability to connect to individuals,” she said.
Alawa, along with juniors Caitlin Giles and Kenny Esman, are ready to begin their terms as Student Government executive officers after being inaugurated Wednesday night.
“We all have the same goal, the same vision,” said Giles, SG vice president. “We all have different personalities, but we balance each other out really well.”
When the three come together to make decisions, they each use their individual strengths to frame the situation. Esman is analytical, Giles is spirited, and Alawa has the higher vision. But all three are equally hardworking, said Giles.
“Three of us in a room get a lot done,” Giles said.
SG Treasurer Esman said that the group has already started setting up meetings with administrators and picking up where the last executive board let off. They want to make sure initiatives like take-out dining don’t fall by the wayside.
Alawa said that she’s looking forward to creating a more fluid SG in terms of the six branches.
“Once we start working on initiatives, it’s all of SG being able to relay the message to the student body on the new things that we’re accomplishing,” she said.