Student-Run Engineering Organization Celebrates Arab American Heritage and Helps Build Community
Karim Kuran (left) and Saed Osman, co-presidents of the UCLA chapter
Karim Kuran and Saed Osman are co-presidents of the UCLA chapter, which was first established in 2015 but has been dormant for the past three years. The organization accepts all undergraduate and graduate students of Arab descent to benefit from its professional connections and scholarships.
On April 1, the U.S. Department of State announced in a video statement the designation of April as Arab American Heritage Month, paying tribute to more than 3.5 million Arab Americans whose heritage and culture are a part of the fabric of this nation.
“We are so proud to have the month of April officially recognized as Arab American Heritage month,” said Osman, a third-year civil engineering student and a fabrication assistant at UCLA’s Architecture design studio. “This month gives us the opportunity to reflect on the history and numerous contributions of Arab Americans all across the U.S. Much like our goals at AAAEA, this month is a symbol to stand proud of our heritage and cherish our strong community, while trying to be as inclusive as possible.”
Osman and Kuran, a third-year student studying aerospace engineering, are best friends with shared Lebanese heritage. The two met at UCLA’s orientation the summer before their freshman year and have been inseparable ever since.
One of Osman’s friends who was the president of AAAEA-UCLA during the 2019-2020 academic year asked Osman if he would be interested in taking over running the student group. Osman and Kuran decided to revive the organization together in an effort to support others in the community and began recruiting its board and general members in the fall of 2020.
“I personally found it a bit tough to find Arab engineers when I first came to UCLA, so this club can help connect us with one another,” Kuran said. “We try to host cultural events every now and then, such as cooking and trivia nights. AAAEA gives students an opportunity to enjoy and celebrate their culture in a way that is focused on engineering and architecture.”
During the winter quarter, AAAEA-UCLA held info sessions with companies such as Illumina, a startup working on health technologies, and GHD, a construction company. The group also provided a resume workshop with an Illumina recruiter.
This quarter, the organization is focused on hosting more social events, as well as another resume workshop. “We are both a social and professional club, so students can enjoy the best of both worlds,” Kuran said.
The UCLA chapter is financially supported by the California chapter of AAAEA, as well as through nominal membership fees. Osman and Kuran meet virtually with members of the California chapter on a weekly basis to provide updates and ask for advice.
“Our most important goal is to ensure that all Arab Americans at UCLA feel like they have a safe space, where they can grow both academically and socially,” Osman said.
“Our most important goal is to ensure that all Arab Americans at UCLA feel like they have a safe space, where they can grow both academically and socially,” Osman said. “And so we are grateful that our platform is ever-growing because this allows us to expand and help more people in need.”
Moving forward, Kuran and Osman want to continue fostering an interactive professional and academic environment within AAAEA. The organization will host events such as internship application-building sessions, company information sessions and tours, mentorship programs and networking meetings with other AAAEA chapters.
Kuran himself has had professional success through his involvement in AAAEA. After the organization hosted an info session with a NASA JPL researcher, Kuran followed up with the researcher who helped him get involved in a JPL research program.
Kuran and Osman hope that through the community they’ve created with AAAEA, students can cultivate more friendships and synergy at UCLA.
“I remember coming in as a freshman with no friends before I met [Osman], whose brother was a junior at UCLA,” Kuran said. “His brother helped us both in terms of what classes to take, or even avoid, and helped us with life on campus in general. This is what I hope our organization can do for other students.”
Chloe Slayter contributed to this story.