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ASU student exemplifies spirit, embeddedness of New American University

March 12, 2007

Arizona State University President Michael Crow’s vision of the New American University is a dynamic model of a university that prides itself in being inclusive and engaged, and assumes responsibility for the society it serves. It is a university that sets new and lofty standards in teaching, research, and public service, and conducts interdisciplinary research to solve real-world problems.

Christopher Zambakari, a summa cum laude graduate of Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences in December, is plotting a career course that will do Crow and the architects of the New American University proud.

His journey started under the darkest imaginable cloud of civil war that brought a way of life dominated by chaos. Born in Yambio in southern Sudan near the country's borders with Central Africa Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo, he watched as his nine brothers and sisters scattered to the wind, retreating to Belgium, Khartoum, Kampala and Kinshasa. Today, he knows his experiences at ASU will carry him to his dream – a long and successful career in civil service in his native Sudan. He knows he is getting closer daily to making a difference, one neighborhood and one community 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, with his mother, arrived in the States five years ago after a circuitous route that led him 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 ASU’s West campus where he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology, allowing him the chance to talk with community psychologists and professionals and study up-close the successes and failures of social programs around the globe. In May 2006 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, he helped organize the First ASU Summer Institute on Community, inviting world-renowned professors and professionals, as well as 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,” says Zambakari with an infectious enthusiasm. “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 U.S. 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,” says Zambakari. “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 clearly the 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, adding, “ASU has allowed me to grow and mature into a young man. Now I look forward to working for an international organization that is working in Africa – the United Nations Development Program, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization, the World Bank; any non-profit that is working to make a difference in Africa.”

Zambakari, who is currently the assistant editor of the “University Community Partnership: Global Networking Platform for Social Action Research” to facilitate a global perspective on cultural diversity, speaks six different languages. He has lived in or visited over a dozen countries. He is ready to help rebuild his war-ravaged homeland.

“One of the graduate schools I have applied to is the Graduate Institution of International Studies in Geneva,” he says, noting the university’s distinguished alumni include former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. “It is important to me, and I have had many professionals tell me, that I continue to do everything I can to gain more exposure to the world’s peoples and cultures. This will add more depth to my understanding and give me greater perspectives.

“It’s about bringing as much information to a situation as you possibly can. You research the successes and you research the failures and you do it within the appropriate context and apply what you have learned and what you know to the current task at hand. It is what I will do in Sudan, and it will be done neighborhood by neighborhood and community by community.”

Zambakari is poised to bring relief to his native Sudan. He believes he has the necessary tools – instruments of change that fit nicely into the toolbox that is the New American University of ASU design.