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Grad to apply skills to promote tourism in native Saudi Arabia

Noor Alhakeem’s career path ‘chose' her while waiting to board an airliner

Portrait of ASU grad Noor Alhakeem.

Noor Alhakeem, fall 2023 Outstanding Graduate, School of Community Resources and Development. Courtesy photo

December 12, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

Noor Alhakeem’s sisters have medical careers. One is a nurse and one is a paramedic, and she, herself, also had considered going into medicine or dentistry.

“Maybe, but it’s not me,” said the Saudi Arabia native, the fall 2023 School of Community Resources and Development Outstanding Graduate.

She decided on her career three years ago, not long after her high school graduation. While waiting at an airport for a flight to Canada — her first traveling by herself — “tourism chose me.”

“It struck me that I wanted to dedicate my life to embodying a more refined version of myself, to be recognized and esteemed both personally and as a proud representative of my country and religion,” Alhakeem said. “This marked the unmistakable moment when I felt the allure of tourism choosing me, rather than the other way around.”

Now that she has earned a bachelor’s degree in tourism development and management, with a minor in special event management, her focus is on Expo 2030. The six-month world fair will be held in the Saudi city of Riyadh. Riyadh was chosen in late November as the site of the expo, scheduled to be held during late 2030 and early 2031 by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).

Alhakeem said she wants to return to her country to put her skills to work promoting it as a tourist destination during the years leading up to the expo.

“This is a chance to go and just shine there,” she said, adding that she will be able to answer questions about her country and about Islam.

Read on to learn more about Alhakeem’s ASU journey.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: During my time at ASU, I discovered that diversity is not just valuable; it's a strength, and acceptance is a true blessing. Initially feeling like the odd one out due to my origins, color, accent and hijab, I chose to remain reserved, fearing mistakes in my non-native English. Yet, with time, I experienced acceptance from peers and faculty alike. I came to realize that I wasn't merely different but uniquely special. I learned the importance of embracing others as they embraced me, emphasizing that love and respect surpass mere acceptance.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Arizona's sense of homeliness and warmth played a crucial role in my university selection. Comfort was a top priority in my search for universities, and ASU's environment provided the ideal sense of familiarity and ease of adaptation, making it the perfect fit for me.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: (Assistant) Professor Nick Wise stands out as the instructor who imparted invaluable lessons during my time at ASU. His encouragement for open expression and discussions on Middle Eastern matters fostered a sense of comfort for me. Professor Wise's extensive travels to nearly 120 countries inspired in me a desire for similar adventures. His teachings not only provided knowledge but also instilled in me the motivation to embrace new experiences and enthusiastically say yes to life's adventures.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Relish the journey, not just the destination. University offers more than just academic learning; it's an opportunity to gain life experiences and forge meaningful relationships. Choose a path that resonates with your vision, not one dictated by familial expectations or job market demands. Keep it simple at every step.

Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: My preferred spot for studying and contemplation was the Health North building, particularly on the second-floor balcony near classroom 228.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Following graduation, I plan to contribute to the development of my country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, particularly in its tourism and event-related projects, with a focus on NEOM (a new urban area planned for Saudi Arabia’s northwestern Tabuk Province). Additionally, I aspire to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality management, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would channel the $40 million into fostering sustainable tourism and travel practices. My approach would involve implementing targeted initiatives to make a tangible and lasting impact, including: community-centric initiatives, environmental conservation projects, educational campaigns, green technology integration, waste management solutions, regenerative tourism projects and collaboration and partnerships.

I would also set up a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to track the impact of the initiatives over time.

By strategically distributing the $40 million across these areas, the goal is to create a holistic and sustainable approach to tourism that not only minimizes negative impacts but actively contributes to the well-being of the environment and local communities.

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