Free to Become More
by Sheryl Lynn Sochoka '92 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“All that is not given is lost.” ~ Indian Proverb
Before coming to Marywood Tom Nezlo saw money, fame, and prestige as the only markers of success in life. A public administration graduate student from Tafton, PA, he was all set to take on the Washington political scene upon graduation. That perspective has changed—dramatically—because of Dr. Alexander Dawoody, Assistant Professor of Public Administration.
"As a result of many discussions with my mentor, listening intently to his lectures, and believing we have a moral obligation to help those most in need, I am planning to attend Seminary in the fall to complete my M.Div. degree and become an ordained minister," says Mr. Nezlo, who earned an M.P.A. degree from Marywood University in May. "Dr. Dawoody has forced me to grow in ways I didn't necessarily want to grow—out of my comfort zone and into a more global, compassionate view."
Dr. Dawoody—a tireless champion of his students—fuels their energy, not just to serve others, but to serve in more meaningful ways. When one's students are future policy makers, health services administrators, and public servants, then mentoring encompasses an even deeper dynamic.
"I emphasize ethics, charity, dignity, sympathy, and helping others, especially those who are unable to help themselves. I teach my students not to limit their service to only acts of giving but also to empowering those who are unable to defend themselves or have been victimized or discriminated against for a long time," says Dr. Dawoody.
He is a testament to the ideals he teaches, because he has lived and endured the very opposite. A native of Iraq, his educational path was cut short by political uprisings in his native country.
"In order to escape arrest and torture by the Iraqi security apparatus who were engaged in policies of genocide against my native Kurdish population, I had to abandon my university studies and join the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq," recalls Dr. Dawoody. "The Kurdish uprising, however, collapsed due to massive offenses by Iraqi Armed Forces. As a consequence, I became a refugee in Iran."
As a former civil engineering student, Dr. Dawoody volunteered to teach math and science to the refugees in the camp. Several months later, he was accepted at the University of Tehran in Iran to continue his undergraduate studies. This period in Iran also was marred by massive political turmoil, and many classes were disrupted by student demonstrations. Caught in the middle of one of them, he was arrested by the Iranian secret police and detained for six months at the infamous Aveen torture camp in Tehran. Human rights groups eventually intervened, and he was released from prison and granted asylum in the United States.
"My first priority was to secure means for living since I was new in this country and had no friends, relatives, or money," says Dr. Dawoody.
His early years in the U.S. were devoted to simply making a decent living. After some years, he realized the need to return to school and further his education. Steadily and with determination, he earned an undergraduate degree in human service management from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, followed by a second bachelor's degree in philosophy. Dr. Dawoody kept going, earning multiple advanced degrees: a master's degree in education from Cambridge College-Massachusetts, as well as a master's degree in public administration and another in health administration from Suffolk University-Boston.
"I then was accepted into a doctoral program at Western Michigan University. While there, I earned a fourth master's degree in philosophy and my Ph.D. in Public Affairs and Administration. While studying, I supported myself by working as an executive in the nonprofit sector," he says.
Dr. Dawoody taught history and philosophy courses at various institutions of higher learning, part-time at first, eventually teaching full-time in the field of public administration. He decided to teach at Marywood because he liked the University's philosophy, values, collegiality, location, and, class size, but his raison d'être is the students.
"Free exercise of opinion is fundamental for learning and building confidence," states Dr. Dawoody. "I value the creation of an environment where ideas are formed and shared."
His students agree wholeheartedly, noting that Dr. Dawoody's classroom is a haven for critical thinking, consensus building, and compassionate outreach. In his quest to prepare the next generation of public administrators and community leaders, he often invites speakers to class, ranging from health services executives and elected officials to media professionals and nonprofit directors, who engage in discussions on various policy and administrative issues with students.
Julanne Zimmerman Skinner, Montrose, PA, who became president of her local chapter of the League of Woman Voters of Susquehanna County in 2009, has focused on arranging and moderating public programs relating to the Marcellus Shale, all of which are meant to educate the public, remain non-partisan, and offer an opportunity for civil discourse.
"I realized I needed to have a fuller understanding of government, the nonprofit sector, and private industry: that is how I arrived at the Public Administration degree," says Ms. Skinner.
"I was very close to hitting the eject button—simply finishing the semester and running away. His encouragement and warmth helped me over the hard part," recalls Ms. Skinner. "I am so thankful to him, because I now realize I can do the work and have set more goals for myself."
Dr. Dawoody intuitively understands his busy graduate students and their needs, knowing full well that challenging their existing perspectives and encouraging their growth will only make them better public administration professionals. His students benefit from his experiences and enthusiasm, which powers their success.
"When we work or volunteer during the day, we are able to come to class at night and share our experiences and how they all relate to public administration," says Heather Gazella, Scranton, PA, whose concentration is nonprofit management. "I think I have learned more through interacting with my classmates than I have reading the assigned textbook."
Some students work full-time, and not all of them take their classes at Marywood's main campus. Dr. Dawoody travels once a week to a satellite site for the program in Danville, PA, to teach the students there. This satellite program is the only way that Kevin Boyles, Danville, a Health Services Administration student, could reasonably balance work, family, and educational pursuits.
"I was interested in earning a graduate degree, but with a full-time job and two children in grade school, I didn't feel the time was right," recalls Mr. Boyles, who works for Geisinger Health Systems. "As I learned more, I realized that through a combination of online, on-campus, and satellite courses, I could attend grad school while living and working in Danville, over 80 miles away."
It is important to Dr. Dawoody to demonstrate to all of his students that they are a part of something beyond themselves. In addition to being a vocal advocate for ethical practices in public affairs and community issues, he works hard to expand the global reach of the Public Administration program.
"As a teacher, I always strive to mold my students to think globally and act locally through services. My motto is 'All that is not given is lost.' I echo this sentiment each and every day, whether in or outside the classroom. In trying to follow the footsteps of great human beings such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, I try to be a better person each day than the day before, and strive to teach students the same," observes Dr. Dawoody, who also encourages his students to "build global bridges through education, effectively serving the department, university, and the community."
Sister Elizabeth Kithuva, SSJ, BSN, RN, of Mombasa, Kenya, is one of many international students who appreciates Dr. Dawoody's global outreach and experiences. Being far from home can present its own challenges, but Sister Elizabeth, who is studying Health Services Administration, has been encouraged by the personal and educational experiences she's had.
"It is really a beautiful learning environment," says Sister Elizabeth.
Shadi Samaan, a native of Syria, now of Lodi, N.J., credits Dr. Dawoody for "building up the mindset to go on in knowledge—building the healthy mentality of a thinker or educated person, step by step, gradually."
Chadli Charlot, a native of Haiti, now of Scranton, PA, who graduated in May with his M.P.A. degree, says, "What's most important to me is having the opportunity to help others and have a positive impact on another's life."
"This attitude of not to judge, not to hate, which I learned best from my mother, taught me the true essence of humanity," Dr. Dawoody explains. "Something that Jesus Christ emphasizes in his teaching: liberation starts in your heart and in your thought. I take these teachings and echo them to my students. Instead of hate and negative energy, open your mind to the wonderful and awesome positive power of life, and let the light of liberty shower you with knowledge and wisdom to actualize your potential, instead of allowing the darkness to consume what you may become."
He concludes: "Respect for the individual is one of my priorities. I value democratic ideals and principles, as it was for such idealism I left my country of birth, endured torture, and accepted new challenges in life. I uphold this belief each day, inside and outside the classroom, and use it to empower my students and encourage them to express their thoughts, respect other opinions, and take a stand in life."
Tom Nezlo captures the students' collective thoughts best: "In education there are moments when a teacher truly lives up to that title and inspires a student to want to change the world. Dr. Dawoody has certainly done that, and continues to do that."
To find out more about the Public Administration Program at Marywood:
“In order to escape arrest and torture by the Iraqi security apparatus who were engaged in policies of genocide against my native Kurdish population, I had to abandon my university studies and join the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq. The Kurdish uprising, however, collapsed due to massive offenses by Iraqi Armed Forces. As a consequence, I became a refugee in Iran.”
“In education there are moments when a teacher truly lives up to that title and inspires a student to want to change the world. Dr. Dawoody has certainly done that, and continues to do that.”
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