2007 staff achievement awards: Yasmin Jamal

March 20, 2008

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Correction appended

Each year, SFU’s staff achievement awards highlight the exceptional personal and work-related accomplishments of staff members. Throughout this semester, SFU News will feature profiles on each of the 2007 winners, who were recognized at a formal luncheon Jan. 21 at the Diamond Alumni Centre.

In this issue: Personal achievement — Yasmin Jamal, library reference.

You would be hard pressed to find an SFU employee who better exemplifies the qualities of courage, perseverance and determination in the face of adversity than W.A.C. Bennett Library reference staff member, Yasmin Jamal.

In 1999, with her two daughters grown and out of the house, Jamal was poised to begin a master’s degree in library and information studies part-time at UBC when she was hit with a series of personal and professional crises.

First came her father’s death in her native Kenya, which affected Jamal deeply. Then her husband was diagnosed with heart disease requiring surgery. Then at work, the library began a major reorganization that demanded all of Jamal’s abilities and focus. And finally her own health deteriorated as she began to experience early heart disease symptoms.

Nevertheless, in 2000, Jamal pressed on with her long-held goal to become a librarian, balancing a gruelling schedule of lengthy, intense days at work, evening classes across town several times a week and late-night bus trips home to Burnaby.

Her weekdays began before dawn and rarely finished before 1 a.m. the next morning. Her weekends offered little respite, what with studying and a full workload of volunteer teaching and other activities at her local Ismaili mosque. Her caring husband took on all the cooking and housecleaning duties.

"It was a very difficult time," admits Jamal, who immigrated to Canada in 1972 and earned a BA in geography and a post-baccalaureate education diploma at SFU before joining the library’s staff in 1980. "And yet I was so motivated I enjoyed every single minute of my master’s studies. I look back on it now as one of the best times of my life."

Her advice to others: "Set realistic goals and then stick to them and you’ll succeed." Jamal was so dedicated to her goal she completed her three-year master’s program in only two years, graduating in 2002 with two student awards.

While she continues to inspire her work colleagues, Jamal has reduced her volunteer activities since then. But she isn’t done with pursuing new challenges just yet. "You’ll probably laugh," she says, "but I’m thinking about pursuing an MBA."

When Yasmin Jamal sets her mind to something, no one laughs.

Correction: March 20, 2008

The original, print version of this story incorrectly inferred that Jamal lives in Coquitlam. In fact, she is a resident of Burnaby.

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