Ossama Nasrallah leads Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association from the heart
By Israel Ekanem
Life can be serendipitous. Ossama Nasrallah was .1% shy of the 85 per cent score required to begin his journey towards becoming a dentist in Jordan. Rather than let that stop him, he accepted his parents’ offer to study abroad in Canada.
Nasrallah applied to and was accepted at Saint Mary’s University (SMU), where he began his studies in 2014 with an English language bridging course before focussing on biology. Nasrallah is passionate and driven in his studies, but he found that biology was not a good fit for his personality. “In my first year, I didn’t like biology, so I moved to commerce because I like to present in front of people,” he says with his disarming smile. The transition to commerce was a smooth one. It allowed him to achieve his first goal of finishing his Bachelor of Commerce degree with a major in marketing, and to also complete his Human Resources Management Certificate at SMU.
In his very first year at SMU, Nasrallah decided to run for the position of president of the Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association (SMUSA). He ran in a pool that included more experienced students, but he was not a joke candidate. He had a lot to offer, such as ideas to bring more income to the Association and create more volunteer opportunities. He was eager to serve the student body.
Nasrallah’s passions for public speaking and public service were evident during his campaign, and even though he did not win, he became a pack leader, a position that involves orienting and helping new students during Welcome Week. He went on to become Vice-President of Student Affairs in his first year. In his second year, he ran for president again but was not successful, although he did remain VP for a second year. While some people might lay the goal of becoming president to rest after two unsuccessful campaigns, Nasrallah did not. He focused on performing his vice-presidential duties well and serving the student body in every way he could while working on plans to run again.
One of the ways Nasrallah contributed was by working with Autism Works Entrepreneurship (AWE), which he joined as a member of ENACTUS, a global community of entrepreneurial leaders made up of students, academic professionals, and industry leaders who see business as a way to address social issues. AWE connects entrepreneurs who have autism with business consultants to help them start and grow their businesses. Nasrallah also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity; a few months ago, he travelled to Florida with about 30 Saint Mary’s students to build three houses for veterans in four days. “It’s a great experience,” he says with a smile. He also volunteered with Students Acting For Global Awareness (SAGA) at the SMU International Centre, where he supported international students in their transition to life in Halifax.
When elections came around again in 2017, Nasrallah ran for president for the third time. He happily quotes his campaign catch phrase, “If you really miss Obama, it’s the time to vote Ossama,” and keeps a statue of former US President Barack Obama on his desk. Nasrallah won with a large margin. After a successful year as President of SMUSA, he ran and won again this year. Reflecting on his 2018 presidential victory, he muses, “Balance. I lost twice. I won twice.”
Being a vice-president for two years gave Nasrallah a thorough understanding of students’ needs, and he has brought that experience to his tenure as president. He loves making a difference, and believes that as the president of the Student’s Association he will be empowered to make positive changes in the lives of the more than 7000 students at SMU. His work as president was recognized in March 2018 by his peers at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), when they honoured him with the Future Prime Minister Award. In April, this award was acknowledged in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly by the Honourable Labi Kousoulis, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education.
In addition to overseeing the overall operation of SMUSA, Nasrallah leads regular meetings with his team to address daily operations, projects, and future priorities. He also engages in advocacy work at both the federal and provincial levels, attending meetings with provincial officials and travelling to Ottawa. He is a busy man, but says that the best part of his work is “meeting with students about their issues and concerns.” He is focused on problem-solving and ensuring every student at SMU has a wonderful experience. This past year, he advocated to extend the fall break for students from two days to a full week, a change the university senate voted in favour of adopting. “The break will tackle issues such as student mental health, student retention, and student engagement,” says Nasrallah.
As a student abroad, Nasrallah values the “community love” that Halifax offers to international students and immigrants. He has fond memories of his first few days in Halifax, and experienced a warm welcome from his fellow students. Another fond memory is his first winter here. Living in Kuwait all his life meant that he had not seen snow before, and his first snowstorm was a wonderful experience. “I wore these really heavy pants and went down the street. My roommates were like ‘Are you crazy?’ when I went to play in the snow and there was no one in the streets!” he recalls with a hearty laugh. While he appreciates the snow, his favourite season is summer. He enjoys walking on the Halifax waterfront and having some mango ice cream from Cows when the weather is warm.
Nasrallah’s advice to recent immigrants to Halifax is to adopt the culture, and to stay open-minded. “Get involved. Get to know more Canadians. People are lovely here,” he gushes about his new home. It is not rehearsed. It is something Nasrallah really believes. He’s spending his fifth year at SMU learning French, and plans to remain in Halifax once he completes his studies. In fact, he is already putting his experiences to work in the real world, and just started a new business with his business partner and SMU alumnus Omar Hassan: The Harbour Watercraft & Adventure Rentals was inspired by their love for the harbour. There will be tours highlighting the beauty of Halifax, and customers can rent watercraft to ride around the harbour starting at King’s Wharf in Dartmouth.
This year will be the last one for Nasrallah in leadership of SMUSA. “I want to be remembered as someone who cares for students,” he says, “someone who loves working on bringing a difference to the university, and someone who will always be there even after graduation.”