Convocation Profile: Samuel Thiak, Political Science

June 13, 2018

By Gladys We

As a child, Samuel Thiak fled violence in the Sudan, and grew up in the Kakuma UNHCR refugee camp for unaccompanied minors, along with 185,000 other refugees.

"Challenges in any refugee camp are many,” says Thiak “and the only way to overcome them is hoping to return home one day or work hard at school if you get the chance, in order to get that good grade. Given the nature of the conflict in Sudan, returning back home was not an option for me."

Thiak studied hard and after finishing high school in the camp he and 130 other students living in refugee camps around the world were selected by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) for sponsorship and residency in Canada. 

When Thiak came to SFU in 2013, he discovered his passion for national and international security and switched from engineering to political science. He says, "I think that every single political science class I took reinforced my passion and strength in politics, law, philosophy, and history, and all my instructors were amazing."

One of the highlights of Thiak's undergraduate career took place during SFU’s NATO Field School in Italy, when Canadian Lieutenant General Chris Whitecross, commandant of the NATO Defense College, presented Thiak with a medal for successfully completing an NMDX Crisis Management Simulation exercise at the college.  

Another highlight: He lived in the SFU Residences when he first came to SFU, and now holds a job there supporting his fellow students. He says, "The best part of this job is working for fellow students' needs. SFU feels like home to me and I like meeting classmates and friends who live in the residence."

Thiak's path through his undergraduate degree was funded by the SFU WUSC student refugee program.  Nada El Masry, Coordinator of the program, says, "Crucial to the program's success is its unique youth-to-youth sponsorship model which empowers young Canadian students to play an active role in the sponsorship of refugee students.”

Since 1981, the university and its students have partnered to sponsor refugee students. All SFU students fund the SFU WUSC program through a small levy ($2.50 or less) added to student fees each term. In 2016, SFU increased the number of refugee scholarships through the WUSC-SRP from 16 to 24 over the next four years. Since the program’s inception, SFU WUSC has sponsored 58 refugee students and will be welcoming 6 new students in the Fall. 

El Masry says that WUSC students always go on to play a critical role in the program, offering day-to-day social and academic support. “Sam was very active in our local committee,” she notes, “and he went above and beyond to support the refugee students who came to SFU after him."

Thiak says he's grateful for the outstanding professors and instructors he's encountered through SFU's Department of Political Science. "Apart from the deep knowledge of their respective fields, they are friendly and approachable," he adds.  

This fall, Thiak continues on his hard-earned path to academic success and will begin an SFU master’s program in political science. He hopes to pursue a career in national/international security/foreign policy, with an eye to helping to build a better world for tomorrow's children.