Nina Shoman-Dajani’s professional career includes over fifteen years of experience in higher education, non-profit and corporate institutions. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and her Master of Arts in International Affairs with a focus on U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policy from California State University, Sacramento.
Currently, Nina holds the position of Assistant Dean in the Learning Enrichment and College Readiness department at Moraine Valley Community College. Nina completed her Doctor of Education degree at Benedictine University (IL) in Higher Education and Organizational Change. Her dissertation research focused on the Racial Identity Construction of Arab American college students.
Prior to her current role at Moraine Valley, Nina held the position of English Language Learner Specialist in the office of Multicultural Student Affairs, taught in the Intensive English Language Program as well as in the Liberal Arts Department. Nina is assisted in building curriculum and programming for the Middle Eastern Studies program at Saint Xavier University (IL) where she is also an adjunct professor.
In 2015, Nina was honored with the Moraine Valley Embracing Diversity Award in recognition of her passion for implementing programming to support students from diverse backgrounds.
Spirit: What made you interested in pursing your degree?
Nina: Even as I was working on my undergraduate degree, I always knew one day I would pursue my doctorate. The motivation to pursue my doctorate in Higher Education and Organizational Change stems from my passion for working with college students. As my career continued to develop in higher education, I was confident that an advanced degree focusing not only in higher education but also on organizational change would be useful because the program was designed to prepare higher education administrators to be change agents who are prepared to meet the challenges of working in U.S. post-secondary education. When I started the program at Benedictine University, I found among me a group of talented, experienced higher education professionals who would end up becoming close friends throughout our doctoral journey together.
Spirit: In your journey to be where you are today, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Nina: During the last few years as I pursued my doctoral degree, my biggest challenge was balancing the various responsibilities I had. This is what I would consider a “good problem.” Working full-time and raising young children can be tough—then to add school to the mix…it was certainly a recipe for a beyond busy lifestyle for a few years. I spent many evenings and weekends in the library and had to sacrifice time with my husband, children and friends. It was challenging; however, I often remind myself that any challenge I have had to face was minor in comparison to the challenges others have faced to reach their goals. I am blessed that I have always had a support system in place, that I have had things we take for granted everyday—transportation, food, healthcare, and a safe environment to live in and work in. I often think of the millions of less fortunate in the world who would love to have a place to work, a school to attend, a degree to pursue…there are people suffering in refugee camps and surrounded by war who are completely capable of accomplishing the same goals I have—only their circumstances do not permit—at least not yet.
I am fortunate, and I recognize that. I have always felt that I should take advantage of the opportunity to be a “life-long learner,” and pursing my doctoral degree was one way to do just that.
Spirit: What made you want to work with ESL students and continue on to oversee the citizenship program at Moraine Valley?
Nina: My previous experience with literacy programming and teaching ESL in Chicago struck a chord with me that has motivated me to continue to assist populations seeking assistance with the English language. Moraine Valley has provided me with the opportunity to build and manage programs which assist English language learners, and I have the opportunity to work with a dedicated team of staff and instructors who are truly committed to assisting our student navigate the college and learn English. Our students come from all over the world and many with advanced and professional degrees; however, without knowledge of the English language, they find it difficult to utilize their skill set and become employed. We get to assist such individuals and help them gain the language tools needed to pursue their personal and professional goals. I find working with students from diverse backgrounds in our ESL and Citizenship programs to be exciting and rewarding. Our citizenship classes are filled with students from around the world who have so much to offer our local communities and our nation. The students bond, recognizing that their diversity enhances their experience on campus, and in their local communities. We remind them that their diversity and contributions strengthen our nation, and that although they come to the college to learn English or prepare to become new citizens, their heritage is respected here and is valued.
Spirit: How do you think we can work together in building bridges among our diverse communities?
Nina: It is important that we recognize the common struggles that underrepresented populations share. Solidarity among diverse communities is extremely important—advocating for the rights of others is just as necessary as recognizing injustice your community may feel. Outreach and collaboration is extremely important to build connections between various communities. This can be done on a local level, or even on a global level. The internet and social media have provided a great opportunity to build bridges and can be used as a platform to advocate for, support, and spread knowledge about the struggles faced by underrepresented communities.
Spirit: Congratulations on receiving the embracing diversity award. In your own words can you tell us how you define embracing diversity?
Nina: I was extremely honored when I received the Moraine Valley Embracing Diversity award. I have the privilege of working with and advocating for students and community members every day. I come to work and get to meet students who have arrived from all corners of the globe. This population includes refugees and asylees. I also had the opportunity to serve as the advisor to the Arab Student Union, a student club at Moraine Valley. My roles as an administrator, as an instructor and as student club advisor have provided me with rich experiences that have influenced my appreciation and passion for working with students from diverse backgrounds, recognizing diversity and embracing diversity are two different things. To me, embracing diversity means to be a promoter of equity and inclusion. Embracing diversity to me also includes advocating for traditionally marginalized groups and creating an environment that challenges systematic discrimination. As an Arab American Muslim woman living in the U.S., I recognize that there is much work to be done to change the dominant social-historical stereotypes that exist and that are reproduced in the media and in U.S. pop culture (not only surrounding my community but also those surrounding other marginalized communities).
Spirit: From your perspective, how do you define leadership?
Nina: Leadership to me is about setting an example and working well with a team. I believe leaders should “Model the Way” as Kouzes and Posner (2015) put it. Leaders should recognize when they have great teams that help them accomplish their goals, and it is important to work side by side with team members to create a vision everyone contributes to. Leadership is also about motivating others, appreciating their contributions and recognizing their efforts. Someone who embodies leadership also supports others who aspire to be leaders. In addition, it is important to recognize that there are many “behind the scenes” leaders who are doing amazing things!
Spirit: What advice would you give to other women on achieving their goals and aspirations?
Nina: I would provide anyone who is determined to reach their goals a few simple tips: 1. Get rid of negative energy in your life—if you feel certain people are detrimental to your happiness and do not truly support you…do not spend your time with them. Negative energy can be very draining!
Spirit: What are other passions that you have outside of the workplace?
Nina: Family time is my top priority—I have three adorable children (Mona, 9 years old, Dino, 6 years old and Jabreel, 4 years old) and a supportive husband who I get to spend my time with when I am off of work. These days, the children’s activities keep us pretty busy, but I try my best to stay involved in the community. I have always had a passion for initiatives that advocate for Palestine and humanitarian causes, and it is important to me to stay up to date on world events. I enjoy reading, love to travel when time allows, and spend time with friends.
Spirit: Where do you hope to be professionally 5 years from now?
Nina: Professionally, I hope to continue my journey in higher education. I recently started a new position as an Assistant Dean of Learning Enrichment and College Readiness at Moraine Valley Community College, and I truly enjoy going to work every day. For right now, I am content as I continue to grow in my new position and am thankful for the wonderful opportunity to support our students on a daily basis. I enjoy being an administrator, working with my colleagues across campus and having the pleasure of working with a great team in my department. I fell in love with working on a college campus many years ago when I had my first teaching assistant position at California State University, Sacramento. As an undergraduate I knew I wanted to continue working in higher education, and I hoped to one day become a professor. Although my higher education journey has taken me in the direction of administration, I also have a passion for teaching and curriculum development. I continue to periodically teach courses at Moraine Valley, and I am currently an adjunct professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.
Joining the Middle Eastern Studies department at SXU has been such an incredibly fulfilling experience—I hope to continue working with the great students and faculty there. I also hope to continue my research in higher education and expand on the recent study I conducted on the racial identity construction of Arab American college students. I hope to share this knowledge on a larger platform and increase understanding about the Arab American student population.