There are many ways to describe Loujain Al Samara’s experience at North Carolina State – accomplished, well-rounded, busy – but “full loop” might be the most apt.
Al Samara will graduate in May 2022 with a BS in Biological Sciences, with a focus on human biology, and a self-designed BS in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing on the scientific and societal dimensions of nutrition and public health. In addition to these achievements, there is a minor in microbiology and a certificate in essential business.
In addition to his commitments as a Park Scholar, Al Samara has been involved in numerous campus-wide activities, including undergraduate research, directing the Student Sustainability Fund, Chancellor’s Study Abroad program, and the Global Ambassadors program.
So, yes: accomplished, complete, busy.
Having the ability to pursue such a full plate was the plan when choosing NC State. The full part of her story, however, came to light as these experiences helped her think more about connecting her skills and passions with her personal and professional growth.
Al Samara, who comes from Raleigh via Homs, Syria, was encouraged by her family to consider a career in medicine – something she thought about but had not 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 student, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. At NC State, there were options I could explore.
She learned about NC State’s Park Scholarship Program from a classmate at Millbrook High School and had only heard of one other student at the school who had received the scholarship.
Learning that she would be joining the program was a moving experience. “I knew it was my only way to be able to go to college, and to have it 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, such as leadership academies and volunteer experiences. It was being an ambassador for the park that led to one of Al Samara’s loop moments.
“My most impactful experiences have come from volunteering,” she said. She especially enjoyed participating in the finalists weekend for future Park Scholars. “It’s so inspiring to see all the high school students who were in the same position as me and to hear the amazing things they are doing.”
Due to its own background, Al Samara understands that making it to the Finalists Weekend only requires knowing the schedule to begin – another opportunity offered by a Park Ambassador.
“We are going to 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 for the program, but if I hadn’t had that exposure, it would have been much more difficult. Visiting these schools was so meaningful,” she said.
As she helped prospective students consider their options, Al Samara also explored as many of them as she could.
She followed local doctors and secured an internship with a professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health, normally for graduate students. She has also worked on the Libraries’ Making Space series of events.
The Park Scholarships program isn’t the only way private support has helped Al Samara make the most of his experience in the state of North Carolina. She studied abroad in Iceland through the Chancellor’s Study Abroad program, which is supported by the university’s Greatest Needs Fund.
“All of those experiences have really helped shape the way I see the world, but also how I see myself and my self-confidence,” she said.
Probably the most formative experience 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 Alaska Native 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’ve taken in four years.”
His experiences with Alternative Service Break also involved travel to the Dominican Republic and online networking when travel was restricted due to COVID-19.
This year, her last break in service came full circle when she returned to Alaska, but this time as a trip leader.
“Honestly, I cried on the way back,” Al Samara said. “The band changed my outlook on life in general. Went here after two years of COVID, thinking it just had to be done. But it reinvigorated my desire to learn new things. This trip reminded me that service can be done anywhere, and it can be big or small, and it’s something I want to be part of my life in the future.
“It’s something I could see going back to when in first grade I thought it was a cool and fun experience and I learned a lot, but I didn’t recognize that service. and how I wanted to move it forward.”
The way she drives him forward is another way Al Samara’s experiments have brought him full circle. The interest in medicine that she kept in the back of her mind during her first year turned into a passion for dentistry. After graduation, she will work as a patient care coordinator for North Carolina Endodontics — where she previously worked as a schedule coordinator — for a year to learn more about the business side before applying to dental school.
“What led me to dentistry was my ability to connect with people who I believe come from a similar background to mine,” Al Samara said. “I would really like to get 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 practices are not seen as welcoming or supportive of those they serve, and she hopes to change that.
This knowledge and vision for the next stage of his life comes from a supportive environment at NC State.
“Without scholarships, I wouldn’t have those meaningful experiences that ultimately led me to my career path,” Al Samara said. “Having people believe me was really empowering. The past four years have been transformative in understanding who I am and what the next steps are, and now I’m ready to apply it.
In other words: she has come full circle.