During the past week, Weber State University has been receiving phone calls from international media trying to speak with one of the newest elected student senators.
“Zaynab Alshakhiss is one of three females from Saudi Arabia ever to hold a position like this in the US,” said Aaron Newman, the senate advisor.
More than 12 media organizations have contacted Alshakhiss about her new senate position. She was recently elected into the International Students senate position and will be on the senate officially starting in the fall semester.
“Every news media from the Arab speaking world just really contacted the campus wanting to get more information,” Newman said.
Alshakhiss has been in Utah since 2008 and moved here to go to school. She is majoring in computer science and plans to go back home to Saudi Arabia once she gets her degree.
She is here with her brother and sister while the rest of her family is living in Saudi Arabia. She decided to run for senator after a counselor suggested that she do so.
“He told me, ‘Run for it, and you will get a lot of training. You can learn a lot of leadership skills; you can get a big chance for practicing English,’” Alshakhiss said.
Alshakhiss said she has been influenced by the women in the Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission, or SACM, located in Washington DC.
“They are taking care of the student affairs, mostly academic affairs,” she said. “I feel that this is a big thing that I can do if I just follow their lead.”
SACM is in place to help Saudi Arabian students studying in the United States excel educationally and culturally.
She was also influenced by her friends who attend WSU. They encouraged her to run for the senate position and said they would vote for her.
“I think this will affect me a lot,” Alshakhiss said. “It will play a big role in my social life. I’m going to know a lot more people. I’m going to have contact with a lot of people. It will affect me positively.”
Alshakhiss has plans for what she would like to do when she is in the International Student senate position.
“I will improve international students here, not just Saudi students,” she said. “I mean all international students who have some issues and need something changed at Weber State. I would be a good representative for them and just to speak out for their issues.”
For graduation, Alshakhiss said she plans on getting high grades and will focus on going back to Saudi Arabia and getting a good job. She said the things she learned here at WSU will be beneficial for when she goes back.
“I think it means a lot in the U.S., especially that she is a woman,” said Susana Justice, a WSU student. “It means even more to women around the world that they are able to take on leadership positions.”
Justice said that she believes it would be good for WSU as well because it might get more recognition.
“People in my community . . . consider it a big accomplishment for a girl to be elected into this position,” Alshakhiss said. “It’s my pleasure, and it’s my honor, and I’m really proud to be in this position. I feel that this is really a part of me, and I am so excited for it.”