Emad Rahim speaks at the Bellevue University winter commencement Jan. 25. Rahim is the endowed chair of project management education and director of undergraduate and graduate degrees in project management.

One Bellevue University professor has looked to education to brighten his future.

Emad Rahim, endowed chair of project management education and director of undergraduate and graduate degrees in project management, spoke at winter commencement Jan. 25 about his past, present and future.

Rahim, who lives in Syracuse, N.Y., and works remotely for BU, started his position in 2014 after falling in love with the school and the students’ similarities to him.

“My background is non-traditional,” he said. “Like students at BU, I’ve always been a non-traditional student, a working adult student.”

Rahim finished his undergraduate degree at a community college, and from there received an associate’s and bachelor’s in community management from Empire State College.

He was working multiple jobs, married at 21, struggled with dyslexia and took care of his mother and siblings before finding an online program through Colorado Technical University. He received his master’s in project management and business management, and a doctorate in management.

“After that, I fell in love with education, fell in love with this experience,” he said. “I went on to complete my post-doctoral studies at Tulane University, Harvard and the University of Maryland.”

In his fifth year at BU, Rahim was chosen to speak at BU’s winter commencement, an opportunity he said he didn’t take lightly.

“I’m honored to be chosen,” he said. “One thing that I always focus when it comes to my speeches is emphasizing what the students went through.

“Often, speakers talk about what they think the process is like. But having been an adult student, having trying to juggle family and work obligations and fitting school in there, I can emphasize what they’re going through and share a bit about my background and history and how it started and how I came to be.”

Rahim came to America in 1982 as a refugee from Cambodia. A genocide survivor, Rahim was born in a concentration camp during the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s. In the concentration camp, his father was executed and an older brother died of starvation.

After coming to America, Rahim said education became vital to his survival.

“Education was something that was very important to me, but I took it for granted. I was focused on making money, helping my mother who was a single mother raising four kids and struggling with poverty and violence,” he said.

“I grew up in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and upstate New York. If it wasn’t for non-traditional education, I probably wouldn’t be alive with all the problems I experienced.

“It took me out of the neighborhoods I grew up in and kind of really brought me to the forefront of opportunities and help transform my life to make it the life I live today.”

Rahim has since worked as a university dean at several colleges across the U.S., has been a TEDx speaker and published a book, “Resilience: From Killing Fields to Boardroom: The S.A.L.T. Effect.”

Rahim has also worked with organizations that specialize in helping students with their education, such as Inner-City Muslim Action Network in Chicago.

“Through education, it puts a lot of things into perspective, like if it wasn’t for certain people in my life, I would not be here,” he said. “The work I do now with education is really to empower the next generation to use education to transform their situation.”

Still living in Syracuse, Rahim visits the Bellevue area three to four times a year. He said he plans on continuing to influence young people.

“I try to visit at-risk high schools, work with community colleges and look at programs to deal with retention issues. I want to kind of show younger people the opportunities they have behind the door,” he said.

“One of the big things we want to work on is getting young people outside their comfort zone, because many people have never left their neighborhoods or city or state, so they don’t know the potential that exists. “

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