Celebrating Differences with Academic Coach, Shareef Alwarasneh ’19

Celebrating Differences with Academic Coach, Shareef Alwarasneh ’19

Shareef Alwarasneh ’19

Shareef Alwarasneh ’19 is a bilingual Philadelphian, born and raised in the heart of the city. If you add up the languages he speaks fluently with the ones he’s currently learning, you get to eight: English, Palestinian Arabic, Spanish, Korean, American Sign Language, French, French Sign Language, and Chinese Mandarin.

Alwarasneh is bicultural, too—an American citizen of Palestinian descent. His parents immigrated here years ago, his extended family lives in Palestine, he’s visited there a number of times, and he has been immersed in Palestinian traditions since he was a small boy.

Finding your way

Having come to the University of Rochester as a transfer student, Alwarasneh knows what it’s like to try to find your way when your peers already have. He ‘gets’ how hard it is to come in late to the culture and rhythm of student life, here or anywhere.

“Who I am,” is a question Alwarasneh has asked himself over and over. “The question of identity is something I think about a lot, for myself and others. A lot of what I’ve done here at the UR has put me on a path to realize the answer for myself and to better understand who other people are.”

Helping those with intellectual disabilities

That wish to connect with others is what led him to become an academic coach with the Transition Opportunities at the University of Rochester, or TOUR. This program makes inclusive college experiences possible for 18-21 year old students with intellectual disabilities.

TOUR students take non-credit classes at the University, receive vocational training and participate in internships, gain independent living skills, and participate in social activities on and off campus. TOUR is founded on a partnership between the University and Monroe #1 BOCES that dates back to 1994. That partnership expanded significantly starting in 2010 with funding Warner’s Center for Disability and Education(CDE) received from the U.S. Department of Education. CDE then began a six year funded partnership with the College’s Rochester Center for Community Leadership and Monroe #1 BOCES to develop a sustainable program.

Being a coach

This year, Alwarasneh has coached two students. He attends classes with them, meets with them regularly, and helps them identify, plan, and reach for their personal career and life goals. “I’m here for them,” he says. “I work with them to help achieve their goals for independence.”

Alwarasneh remembers a moment he saw one of his students master a life skill, and feel great about it. “There was one day when I couldn’t get to one of my student’s classes right on time,” he says. “When I arrived, nearly all of the tables and seats were full and my student had found one of the last remaining spots amidst a group of classmates she didn’t know. I wondered how she would do, knowing that I always sit with her, and that it can be challenging for her to be with new people and make connections.”

Alwarasneh watched the student. At first, she was tentative and then she started smiling and talking with her classmates. “After class she said to me, ‘I was talking with my friend Brian during the class,’ and I saw how happy she was that she made that connection all on her own.”

Taking the next step

After graduation, Alwarasneh hopes to pursue a career that involves cultural engagement. He dreams big and thinks about working for the United Nations, or maybe even as an ambassador. His career and life goals are consistent: to bring communities and people together, especially between those who think there are vast differences between them. “We better understand ourselves and our world when we try to understand and get to know people who are different from ourselves, without judgement and with an open heart.”

Alwarasneh thinks about the people around him every day here at the University and in Rochester, including the international student community, the disabled community, and many others. “I like learning about everyone—who each person is and what they value. It changes my perspective and gives me skills to interact more effectively with them.”

“Coaching helps me see that all of us struggle with things,” he says. “What can be easy for me might be difficult for you, and vice versa. Coaching teaches compassion and shows what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Doesn’t the world need that, perhaps now more than ever?”

For more information

Preston Faulkner
Senior Director, Warner Advancement
(585) 276-3636 | pfaulkner@warner.rochester.edu

Learn more about Warner’s Center for Disability and Education

Kristine Thompson, June 2019