You would never know it now, but there was a time when Hitam (Sam) Alsharif was shy. The decorated UNCG leader and Spartan of Promise wears a perpetual smile and has infectious Spartan spirit.
But when Alsharif first arrived at UNCG, beyond navigating the challenges of being a freshman in college, the international student from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, faced language and cultural barriers.
He quickly learned that in order to succeed outside of the classroom, he would need to take a big step out of his comfort zone. He began as a volunteer liaison between the International Programs Center and Saudi Arabian students in the U.S. interested in attending UNCG. The following semester, Alsharif was invited to join the Lloyd International Honors College and became the only international student Honors Ambassador at that time.
“It was my first-ever job interview. It was terrifying,” said Alsharif, a biology major with a concentration in biotechnology and minor in chemistry.
From there, he catapulted: Spartan Orientation Staff Captain; President, Lloyd Honors College Ambassadors; Student Reflection Leader; Peer Leadership Educator; President, Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society; Gold Medallion Recipient, Leadership Challenge Program; President, Saudi Student Club; Ritualist Officer, Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity.
And he racked up a stack of awards: Golden Chain Honor Society – Bronze, Silver, Gold; 2015 Emerging Student Leader Award; 2017 Outstanding Student Leader Award; 2017 Homecoming Royal Court; Alumni Association Spartans of Promise.
Along the way, Alsharif discovered his own leadership style, learned about different identities, cultivated communication skills and shattered stereotypes.
“Before, I thought a leader always had to be front and center,” he said. “But as I got to work with student groups, I learned that it’s OK to be a follower and push your followers ahead of the game. That’s what a leader does.”
Alsharif said from the get-go, he has experienced an incredible amount of acceptance at UNCG from students, faculty and staff.
“It’s this reciprocal relationship of understanding – here it doesn’t matter where you come from,” he said.
Alsharif loves his work as an undergraduate lab assistant at the Anne Hershey Ecology Aquatic Lab, where he researches bacteria in Peabody Park streams. He has hopes to attend graduate school and join the faculty ranks as a professor. But his interest isn’t just within the teaching arena.
“I plan on being involved within the university – advising student groups, promoting leadership and service-learning,” Alsharif said. “This is what makes the experience of a student – not just the classroom or degree.”
When he walks across the stage next week, Alsharif believes that through his leadership on campus, he will leave a legacy – one way he can give back to his alma mater.
“It’s very humbling that UNCG accepts students from all the over world,” he said. “As long as students want to grow and meet challenges, UNCG will push them all the way to the top.”
Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications
Videography by Grant Gilliard, University Communications