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ASU inspires journey to civil service

March 30, 2007

Christopher Zambakari, a December summa cum laude graduate of ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, is plotting a career course that will do the university's president, Michael Crow, and the architects of the New American University proud.

His journey started under the cloud of civil war in Sudan, which forced his nine brothers and sisters to scatter to Belgium, Khartoum, Kampala and Kinshasa. Today, he knows his experiences at ASU will carry him to his dream: a civil service career in his native country. He knows he is getting closer daily to making a difference, one neighborhood at a time.

“I wish to receive a master's degree in global affairs and management or international studies, then a doctorate,” says the 21-year-old, who arrived with his mother in the States five years ago after a journey through seven African countries and Belgium as a refugee from Sudan 's bloody civil war. “My experience at ASU has been fantastic. I have had the unique opportunity to meet and work with outstanding professors, and when one has the guidance of experienced professors and professionals, the journey is made easier, goals become attainable and opportunities that were once hidden suddenly become visible.”

Zambakari, who graduated from Phoenix Alhambra High School at the top of his class, immersed himself in international opportunities during his days on the West campus, where he earned his bachelor's degree in psychology, allowing him the chance to talk with community psychologists and professionals, and study social programs around the globe. In May, he traveled to Poland for three weeks to research the impact of democracy on the country and its people. One month later, Zambakari traveled to Puerto Rico to attend the inaugural four-day International Conference on Community Psychology.

Upon his return to the Valley, Zambakari helped organize the first ASU Summer Institute on Community, inviting world-renowned professors and professionals, in addition to 26 social organizations such as Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, Community Economic Development Alliance, Homeward Bound, Save the Family, and the Foundation for Senior Living.

“You can't understand people apart from the cultural and social context in which they live,” Zambakari says. “In Puerto Rico, we heard presentations about – and studied closely – health care systems in Latin America, homelessness in Asia, the concept of social justice in Colombia, Iranian immigration assimilation in Germany.

“We looked at the success and failures of the program. I can apply what I have learned from real-life experiences in the area of community psychology. The United States dominates the world in psychology, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can successfully apply what is done here to another area or culture.”

He insists his approach to social work in Sudan will be interdisciplinary.

“In Poland , I was able to meet with experts in social psychology, community psychology, political psychology and psychology of social change,” Zambakari says. “It is critical to have and to consider the many different areas that impact a social program, and its implementation. At ASU, you learn the importance of interdisciplinary studies and how different disciplines can work together for the overall good. Community psychology is very interdisciplinary, and I am applying those lessons.”

Zambakari, who continues to attend ASU as a student coordinator for three different summer programs, including a pair of study abroad courses, is excited about the prospect of returning to Sudan , Africa 's largest country at 967,495 square miles, where some 34 million people live under an authoritarian dictatorship. He sees an opportunity to rebuild neighborhoods and communities.

“I want to be the link,” he says. “I want to be the one to bring the doctors, to bring the architects, to bring the teachers to the communities. I want to work with the schools and the hospitals, and look inside for help and infrastructure, not look outside. We can't change Sudan as a whole, but we can change Sudan one community at a time. We can bring change from the ground up.”

He knows where his work will begin, as it is a part of a master plan he has devised and is committed to complete. It is a plan inspired by ASU.

“I was born in Africa, and most of my dreams were conceived on African soil, but Arizona State University gave me the tools I need to achieve my goals,” he says.