Promoting a culture of civic engagement
MarCom sits down for a conversation with Assistant Vice President for Outreach and Civic Engagement Elie Samia.
One of the things distinguishing LAU from other universities in Lebanon and the region is a focus on civic engagement as a central part of the university culture. The Marketing and Communications Department recently sat down with Elie Samia, the assistant vice president of Outreach and Civic Engagement (OCE) to talk about OCE’s role in promoting engagement with the community and the ways in which the activities the office sponsors support LAU’s mission to serve the broader society.
MarCom: “Civic engagement” is a broad term. What is your vision for promoting a culture based around this concept?
Elie Samia: We want to promote this culture not just at LAU, but through all of Lebanon and the MENA region. To me it means diligently and passionately focusing on instilling our university community with the values of appreciating diversity and building bridges across differences; behaving with civility even in controversial situations; actively participating in public life; nurturing a sense of social responsibility; a willingness to assume leadership roles and to join organizations engaged in improving society; and openness to learning from others and developing informed perspectives on social issues. Therefore, we are educating students to appreciate the importance of personal and social responsibility, and graduating well-rounded leaders who will carry the torch of positive change, turning positive public opinion into constructive public policy.
MarCom: How is OCE promoting this vision?
Elie Samia: We run about a dozen major programs, starting with the Global Classroom LAU Model United Nations, the Model Arab League, the Moderation and Justice Academy for Leaders, and the Leadership and Constitutional Education Academy. In all of them, we train LAU students who in turn train thousands of middle and high school students across Lebanon in peace building, diplomacy simulation, conflict resolution, negotiations, and so on.
We also have initiatives with outside partners, such as the Outreach and Leadership Academy with the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. At home, we sponsor the annual NGO fair on both campuses and manage the University Scholarship Program, among others. Ever since the inauguration of LAU’s headquarters in New York, we also organize the Global Outreach and Leadership conferences there.
OCE collaborates closely with all seven LAU schools, working with them to engage faculty, staff and students in many different civic engagement projects. We often run workshops in which we train the schools’ constituencies in various aspects of civic engagement.
MarCom: LAU is in a period of rapid institutional growth, with expansion going on in all directions. Do you have any new projects in mind for the future as OCE grows along with the rest of the university?
Elie Samia: We are moving towards organizing Model UN conferences in New York in addition to the ones we run in Lebanon, and also organizing youth leadership conferences at the Manhattan center. Plans exist to establish more outreach and leadership academies across Lebanon and the MENA region. And we’re actively looking into establishing private/public partnerships in the sectors of health, environment, civic engagement and citizenship.
MarCom: One last question. What challenges does OCE face in carrying out such a variety of projects?
Elie Samia: Sometimes our passion for service exceeds the resources put at our disposal. I mean that our dreams are far bigger than our carrying capacity, which is why at OCE we have recently adopted a new moto: “We are impatiently patient!”