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A Perfect Circle

Loujain Al Samara in front of the Belltower in her cap and gown

There are many ways to describe Loujain Al Samara’s NC State experience — accomplished, well-rounded, busy — but “full circle” might be the most apt.

Al Samara will graduate in May 2022 with a B.S. in biological sciences, with a focus on human biology, and a self-designed B.S. in interdisciplinary studies focused on scientific and societal dimensions of nutritional and public health. On top of those achievements are a minor in microbiology and a certificate in business essentials.

In addition to her commitments as a Park Scholar, Al Samara has participated in numerous activities throughout campus, including undergraduate research, Student Sustainability Fund leadership, the Chancellor’s Study Abroad program, the Global Ambassadors program and the Global Engagement Fund program. 

So, yes: accomplished, well-rounded, busy.

Having the opportunity to pursue such a full plate was the plan when choosing NC State. The full circle part of her story, though, has revealed itself as these experiences helped her think more about connecting her skills and passions with personal and professional growth.

Al Samara, who is from Raleigh by way of Homs, Syria, was encouraged by her family to consider a career in medicine — something she thought about but wasn’t committed to.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I was going to be supported in my academic and personal growth,” Al Samara said. “Being a first-generation college student, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. At NC State, there were options I could explore.”

She found out about NC State’s Park Scholarships program from a fellow Millbrook High School classmate and had only heard of one other student at the school who received the scholarship.

Learning she would join the program was an emotional experience. “I knew that it was my only path to be able to go to college, and for it to be somewhere so close to my family was really exciting,” Al Samara said. 

The Park Scholarships program offers students a range of opportunities to grow and learn, like leadership academies and volunteer experiences. It was being a Park Ambassador that led to one of Al Samara’s full-circle moments. 

“My most impactful experiences have come from volunteering,” she said. She particularly enjoyed participating in finalists’ weekend for future Park Scholars. “It’s such an inspiring thing to see all of the high school students who were in a position that I was in and hearing the amazing things they’re doing.”

Because of her own pathway, Al Samara is aware that getting to that finalists’ weekend starts with simply knowing about the program to begin with — another opportunity being a Park Ambassador afforded.

“We go and talk about the Park Scholarships program at different high schools, especially in underserved areas. I was able to follow what my classmate did to apply to the program, but had I not had that exposure, it would have been a lot more difficult. Visiting these schools was so meaningful,” she said.

While she was helping future college students consider their options, Al Samara was also exploring as many of her own as she could.

She shadowed local doctors and secured an internship with a professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health normally geared toward graduate students. She also worked at the Libraries’ Making Space event series. 

Loujain Al Samara tagging the Free Expression Tunnel with spray paint.
Al Samara took to the Free Expression tunnel to promote Wake Smiles’ first annual Smile Run, a fundraiser she is working on to help address inequalities in healthcare through dentistry.

The Park Scholarships program isn’t the only way private support has helped Al Samara make the most of her NC State experience. She studied abroad in Iceland through the Chancellor’s Study Abroad program, which is supported by the University’s Greatest Needs Fund. 

“All of these experiences really helped shape the way that I view the world, but also the way I view myself and how confident I am,” she said.

The most formative experience probably was the Alternative Service Break program, run by the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. During Al Samara’s first year at NC State, she traveled to Hoonah, Alaska. She and her fellow participants visited the local school to promote higher education while learning about Native Alaskan culture and the Tglinit people.

“It’s a great way to learn something new but also have the space to think about it,” Al Samara said. “It’s the only program I did all four years.”

Her experiences with Alternative Service Break also involved traveling to the Dominican Republic and online networking while travel was restricted due to COVID-19.

This year, her last service break came full circle when she returned to Alaska, but this time as a trip leader. 

“I honestly cried going back,” Al Samara said. “The group changed my outlook on life in general. I went in after two years of COVID, thinking let’s just get this done. But it reinvigorated my desire to learn new things. That trip reminded me that service can be done anywhere, and it can be big or small, and it’s something I want to be a part of my life going forward.

“That was something I was able to see going back, whereas as a freshman, I thought it was a cool, fun experience and I learned a lot, but I didn’t recognize that piece of service and how I wanted to carry it forward.”

How she’s carrying it forward is another way Al Samara’s experiences have brought her full circle. The interest in medicine she kept in the back of her mind during her first year has turned into a passion for dentistry. After graduation, she’ll work as patient care coordinator for North Carolina Endodontics — where she has already worked as a scheduling coordinator —for a year to learn more about the business side before applying to dental school.

“What has driven me to dentistry is my ability to connect with people that I feel like come from a background similar to mine,” Al Samara said. “I would really love to go into public health dentistry.”

Al Samara wants to connect with vulnerable populations and provide the kind of dental work that helps people feel confident. She noted that most low-income dental offices aren’t perceived as inviting or encouraging to those they serve, and she hopes to change that. 

This knowledge and vision for the next stage of her life comes from a supportive environment at NC State. 

“Without scholarship support, I wouldn’t have those meaningful experiences that ultimately led me to my career path,” Al Samara said. “Having people who believed me was really empowering. These past four years have been transformative in figuring who I am and what those next steps are, and now I am ready to apply it.”

In other words: She’s come full circle.

This post was originally published in Giving News.