Years of passion, hard work and determination in overcoming many challenges have paid off for Rana Sawaya, a Lebanese academic and university administrator who was recently appointed as acting president of University College of Bahrain.
She is soon expected to be officially installed as president of the university, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Sawaya’s university career began when she got a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lebanon’s University of Balamand in 1998. She then added a master’s degree from the Lebanese American University and a Ph.D. from Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University, in France.
“I’ve been working in the education field for more than 24 years,” Sawaya told Al-Fanar Media. “In fact, I was in my second year at the University of Balamand when I started working as a student assistant in the comptroller’s office.”
Shortly after she graduated, the university offered her a permanent job. She then spent nine years handling students’ fees and accounts. She said, “The university was growing at that time, and I loved working with students because they have the energy that keeps you motivated.”
Sawaya left her position with Balamand in 2006 to follow her husband to Bahrain, where she started a new chapter of her career. Within three months of arriving, she was offered a job at the University College of Bahrain, a private institution that specialises in business administration, information technology, and communications and multimedia.
“It was a lucky opening because UCB had purchased new software from a Lebanese company called Logos, and they knew that I had worked on that same system at Balamand. … This is how I got the job in the beginning.”
Adapting to Life in Bahrain
“I’ve been working in the education field for more than 24 years. In fact, I was in my second year at the University of Balamand when I started working as a student assistant in the comptroller’s office.”
Sawaya found it challenging adapting to a Bahraini university. Coming from Lebanon, she had to get used to a more multicultural environment, the language, culture, lifestyle and even the dress code. But her spirit and passion for higher education prevailed, and her deep attachment to the university began.
Sawaya has occupied key positions at University College of Bahrain during the last 15 years, including director of admissions and student accounts and registrar manager, as well as being an assistant professor in the department of business administration.
It was during that time that she decided to enrol in a doctoral programme in France, which she began shortly before losing her mother and when her son was only 10 months old. She divided her time between family, work and trips to France for her Ph.D. studies.
“It was a very difficult period, but I managed,” Sawaya said. “I dedicated my Ph.D. dissertation, on quality assurance in higher education, to my son and my mother. I felt that my mother encouraged me to go on with my studies like an angel guiding me throughout. And every baby step my son took was also a step in my journey. Those two gave me the courage to move on and I believe that it was thanks to them that I am where I am today.”
Early Passion for Teaching
Sawaya has been passionate about education and teaching since she was young. Whilst still at school she volunteered to teach children in orphanages.
University College of Bahrain chose her as acting president from among several candidates who were asked to present a plan that would take the university to a higher stage. Her vision on how to win international accreditation, improve the university’s ranking, introduce new majors, and equip students with the skills they need in a changing, competitive job market got the unanimous approval of university officials.
“She has always been a perseverant person, details oriented and very meticulous. … Her commitment to the institution she was serving was highly appreciated by her colleagues and her superiors.”Rouba Borgi A former colleague of Sawaya’s at the University of Balamand
“For them, I was the person who best knew the university’s culture after having lived through different phases of its history. It was the outcome of long years of hard work,” said Sawaya.
Rouba Borgi, an administrative officer at the University of Balamand and one of Sawaya’s former colleagues, remembers her as “a passionate worker who enjoyed a keen sense of responsibility.”
“She has always been a perseverant person, details oriented and very meticulous. Her work has always been remarkable and her commitment to the institution she was serving was highly appreciated by her colleagues and her superiors,” Borgi told Al-Fanar Media.
“For someone who has these qualities, it is only normal to advance in her professional career and hold high responsibility.”
Sawaya “has a promising future waiting for her,” Borgi added. “She deserves an institution that deserves her.”
Advice to Younger Generations
Sawaya feels the key to success is to believe in oneself and pursue one’s dreams. Her message for younger generations is, “You will always have opportunities and your unique chance in life, but you should know how to grab it at the right moment. You need to have critical thinking and the courage to take chances. It is done in small steps because no one can reach the top overnight, especially against fierce competition.”
Samaya said being a working woman in a Gulf country was not a challenge because Bahrain has a policy of empowering women.
“They have four lady ministers, a special women’s day, a Supreme Council for Women, and four private universities in Bahrain are headed by women, including an American, a British woman and myself.”
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Sawaya can be an inspirational example to more than women. She is already an inspiration for her 8-year-old son, who tells her, “I want to study to be president of a university like you.”