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Illustration by Dhabia AlMansoori

Alumni Stories: Living Legacies

From Rhodes Scholars to riding for one Africa, NYU Abu Dhabi’s alumni are trailblazers building the university’s legacy through their inspiring work around the globe.

Class of 2020. The graduation of NYU Abu Dhabi’s seventh class will mark ten years since the university’s establishment. From Sama to Saadiyat, NYUAD has evolved over time. Starting as a class of 148 students from 40 countries in 2014, the class of 2023 consists of 400 students from 81 countries, who will never get a chance to experience the lobster at D1 or televisions in their dorm rooms. As the tenth class, they are, however, building onto NYUAD’s ever-growing legacy, carried forward by its alumni to all ends of the globe. Alumni depart this university, yet they continue to carry the NYUAD torch: through their Rhodes Scholarships, their voyages across Africa and their endeavors to improve the future of their home countries. The Gazelle set out to shed a light on a few of the many alumni out there that are trailblazing a path for NYUAD’s rise in the global academic sphere.
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Image Courtesy of Tala Nassar
Tala Nassar and Firas Ashraf, Class of 2019, have become champions of the arts and social responsibility respectively on campus, both working to contribute to future innovation in Abu Dhabi. Nassar, who majored in Art and Art History, joined the NYUAD Art Gallery as the inaugural David Webb Museum Fellow. She is the curatorial manager of the NYUAD Project Space exhibitions and the Christo Award for emerging artists and also conducts curatorial research for exhibitions.
Nassar acknowledges the legacy of the fellowship that she received, and that it holds great significance for the Arab community she belongs to.
“It is especially rewarding to know that this fellowship will continue to grow and support Arab curators for years to come,” Nassar shared.
Reflecting, Nassar drew attention to the importance of pursuing a major out of interest, particularly at NYUAD.
“We are fortunate enough to be surrounded by endless resources and career support in this university, so I am positive that if you put in enough effort, you will make something worthwhile out of it.”
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Image Courtesy of Firas Ashraf
Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Research and Public Policy with Arabic and Education Studies minors, Ashraf now works at NYUAD as the Program Coordinator in the Office of Social Responsibility and Community Engagement. The first-generation college student appreciates the variety of perspectives on campus that lead to significant conversations and questions that challenge beliefs and lead to both personal and academic growth.
While the diversity of the student body is valuable, it leads to post-graduation challenges in regards to social life.
“I think you really see the difference in how others view the world when you leave because you have gotten used to trying to view events and topics from multiple perspectives but often times you feel like you can hit a wall with one-sided views or people stubborn with learning another perspective,” Ashraf added.
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Image Courtesy of Viktor Okoth
Viktor Okoth, Class of 2019, with only the support of a single Yamaha Crux 110cc motorbike, and his younger brother Owor spent three months post-graduation travelling throughout eastern and southern Africa to promote the One-African Passport. Their journey spanned over 10,000 kilometers across seven different countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Motivated by a series of failed promises from the African Union, Okoth took matters into his own hands, partnering with petition organizations and local media to spread awareness about the benefits of visa-free borders across all 54 African states. Now, almost seven months after graduation, Okoth has returned to NYUAD as an Assistant Instructor of Civil Engineering. Being back on campus, Okoth often finds himself reflecting on his four years and the memories he has developed with friends and faculty.
“The worries, classes, grades, late-night study sessions, soccer games … conversations … all the ups and downs. In retrospect, everything, even the times that seemed disappointing or nerve-wracking in the moment, comes together to form a colorful, and human collage.”
Among that collage, Okoth noted the inspiring ability NYUAD students have to remain supportive and empathetic to the larger community, even amid all of the stress of capstone and the senior-year recruiting process. However, it was his memories as a member of the NYUAD intercollegiate football team that shone as the highlight of his university experience.
“The ADISL quarter-final game which [we] won … in the last minute with a shot from very far afield was so amazing. So many students had come out to support the soccer team, and everyone was so happy they were hugging people they’d never talked to. The mass emotion was so beautiful.”
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Image Courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi Institute
In the field of academics, Luce Scholar Lama Ahmad, and Rhodes Scholar Amal Al Gergawi, both Class of 2019, left NYUAD to push their education forward, setting a trajectory for current students.
Lama Ahmad is the first NYUAD student to receive the Luce Scholarship, which is a year-long immersive fellowship for Americans interested in working in Asia. She is currently based in Indonesia, working at the United Nations Global Pulse Lab Jakarta. Some of the projects she is invested in currently are in regards to finding solutions to challenges in public transportation, financial inclusion and agriculture in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
Ahmad appreciates NYUAD for teaching her to navigate language barriers, cultural differences and the ability to adapt to a new work environment.
“My time at NYUAD gave me the confidence to be open to the challenges in contexts that are completely out of my comfort zone,” said Ahmad.
Al Gergawi is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Comparative and International Education at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. She referred to her time at NYUAD as a transformative experience that allowed her to develop a strong sense of social responsibility.
Currently living in the rain of the United Kingdom, she reminisced about her time as an undergraduate in sunny Abu Dhabi.
“I miss coming back to the dorms after a long tiresome day to sip green tea with my roommates and discuss Arabic poetry. I miss the random collisions of friends on the highline and, at times, in different parts of the world.”
Mohammed Omer, Class of 2014, stayed close to home — NYUAD — working in the healthcare sector at Mubadala, an investment vehicle of the government of Abu Dhabi with a portfolio of more than 50 businesses in 50 different countries across the globe. However, Omer was not always certain about his career path, place of residence or even his interests, especially post-graduation.
“My friends were going away to grad school or starting [in] government departments, and doing other huge things, and I was still trying to figure things out in May … and August … and November,” Omer admitted. “Graduation was such a huge high, so coming back to normal life without the fall semester to look forward to and still exploring my next move was scary.”
Omer’s path towards employment may not have been stress free or typical. However, looking back on those resources at NYUAD that have set him up for success, Omer is thankful for the Career Development Center and Campus Life for giving him opportunities to chase his passions to heights he never envisioned. Having spent the entirety of his university life at the Sama Tower campus, Omer has also had a hard time adjusting to the evolution of NYUAD, especially when there were so few students on campus during his most formative years.
“Imagine, we had 150 people in the entire school and a weekly online paper with a TMZ-style gossip column; a far cry from today’s student publication. I miss … celebrating my birthday with the youngest Dicce. Marvel movies with our own Captain America: Vic Lindsay, the first Open Mic Nights.”
NYUAD is an investment, and for everything that we appreciate it to be, it relies on its alumni to carry its reputation forward for future generations. From students who started off in Sama Tower to those familiar with the growth of the Saadiyat skyline, all alumni contributed and contribute to building NYUAD.
Dylan Palladino is Senior News Editor and Sarah Afaneh is Deputy Features and Social Media Editor. Email them at
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