My UAE: NYUAD’s Amna Almaazmi is a woman of strategies

The assistant dean of students and director of campus life assessment and strategy at NYUAD uses her world experience to acclimitise NYUAD's international student body to a new environment.
Amna Almaazmi, assistant dean of students at NYUAD in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
Amna Almaazmi, assistant dean of students at NYUAD in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

As Amna Almaazmi recounts the details of more than two decades spent working in educational institutions there is, she admits, a certain circularity to her progress.

After a 15-year stint at Dubai’s Higher Colleges of Technology and a further two years at the Fatma College of Health Sciences, Almaazmi joined New York University Abu Dhabi in 2014 as assistant dean of students and director of campus life assessment and strategy.

“I think I’ve successfully negotiated my freshman and sophomore year here and now I’m ready to be a junior,” the 42-year-old quips.

The role not only charges Almaazmi with responsibility for devising strategies that will allow the university’s Campus Life department – a team of 85 people – to achieve its goals,but with making sure that NYUAD’s students feel welcome by, and connected with, the wider community.

“In broad terms my responsibility is for developing strategies that allow us to understand who our students are, what we can do for them, and then to provide them with experiences that allow them to understand what the UAE and Abu Dhabi has to offer,” she says.

A lot of the activities Almaazmi conceives and co-ordinates encourage the students to explore their new home by introducing them to individuals or sending them to places that they might not encounter for themselves, both in Abu Dhabi and beyond.

“This year, because Eid came early, we wanted to send the students out before they got used to the bubble of campus life and to make them familiar with the area, expose them to new experiences and to form friendships as early as possible,” she explains.

When it comes to understanding the needs of students, especially those who live and study in a society that’s very different from their own, Almaazmi knows of what she speaks.

In 1992, at the tender age of 18, Almaazmi left her native Sharjah and travelled to Orlando, Florida in America where she studied for her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Central Florida.

“I got a scholarship and my parents fully supported me in my decision but I went off alone,” she says.

“I had to navigate that environment and learn from my peers who were there. I made friends with lots of Americans, Latinos and South Asians and I learnt a lot during that time. It felt like I grew twice my age.”

Her US experience was followed by six years in the UK, during which time she not only trained and worked as a university counsellor, but also gained two master’s degrees and a PhD.

“But that was a very different challenge because at the time I was there with three children,” the now mother of four says.

Understanding the importance of family inspired Almaazmi to extend a traditional “Merhaba”, or welcome, to the parents of this year’s new intake at NYUAD.

“We admitted 325 students this year and we sent an invite to all parents inviting them to attend our Parent Merhaba – 140 people from 60 families and 58 different countries RSVP’d and attended,” Almaazmi explains.

Do you have a favourite book?

The Invitation by a Native American author, Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It’s a poem about a lot of things – happiness, suffering, sorrow – and each section of the poem is turned into a chapter that invites you to deal with those emotions. You don’t have to read the whole book in one go, but depending on where you’re at, you can just take it off the shelf and dip into it.

Do you have a favourite destination?

This summer I was in Greece – we went to Santorini and Nea Anchialos. We rented a villa just five minutes from the beach and it was an amazing experience, especially for the children. They did Greek history at school, so they were keen to see the Acropolis, Mount Olympus and the monasteries.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like the beach. Now that the weather is pleasant, I take my children there all the time. If I’m in Sharjah, we’ll go to Sharjah beach, or if I’m here in Abu Dhabi, we’ll go to Saadiyat Public Beach.

What do you do to relax?

I’ve been meditating for a long time. The best time for me is when the children are asleep, so I usually do it before fajr prayer, when I am by myself. I trained as a counsellor in 2003, and this is part of my training that has stayed with me ever since.

Do you have a favourite piece of music?

I listen to a lot of Zen music and nature sounds, especially when I drive back to Sharjah. It keeps me relaxed. I don’t drive back on Thursdays because the road is crazy, but I hit the road on a Friday morning after the children have had their breakfast.

Where would you send somebody who wanted to understand Abu Dhabi?

I’d say the museums and the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, when it’s on. That’s an amazing place and it offers you everything you need to know.

What book would you recommend to a newcomer to Abu Dhabi?

If they want something really quick, I’d give them the Ask Ali guides by Ali Al Saloom. I also like books that are written about Sheikh Zayed [the founding President of the UAE] and the history of the UAE, but I think that it’s much better to listen to somebody first and then go to a book.

Do you have any words of wisdom?

“You won’t know it unless you try it.” My English teacher told me this in Grade 6 when I was uncomfortable with my English and there was a language competition. She advised me to take part. My response was no, because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but she just wrote the details of the competition on a piece of paper and I took it home with me. That motivated me to learn English, and I eventually won first place.

Published: September 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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