Faculty Profile
Alaa Kassir


Faculty profile: Alaa Kassir

Alaa Kassir radiates positivity. It’s a remarkable enough quality in anyone, but particularly in the associate technical professor of developmental mathematics, who was born and raised in Tripoli, Lebanon, during the country’s civil war.

“I’m really a war child,” she said. “I did not have much of a childhood. It was very protected and limited. I always tell my students that they are extremely lucky to have grown up in this country in peace, getting to enjoy the parks and riding bikes and doing all the activities that I did not get to do as a child.”

Kassir speaks Arabic and attended French schools through high school. (“I learned all my math in French, so I still count in French in my head,” she said.) She had a few classes in English in middle school and high school, and when she received a full-ride scholarship to college she left Lebanon to attend the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Although she’d passed the Test of English as a Foreign Language with ease, she struggled in her first American courses.

“When I got to the university and I was in a classroom, I was in tears,” Kassir said. “I had no idea what’s going on, the teacher was going too fast. I had to switch and go to a full semester of [English as a Second Language]. I could not be in academic classes.” Once she was ready, she was able to rejoin her American classmates and fit in with the culture. “I feel like I am made in America, really, because I did not have much of a life before.”

After graduation, Kassir followed in her parents’ footsteps and became a teacher. She began her career teaching math in a junior high in San Antonio, Texas. “It was really a very special experience in my life,” she said. But after three years her visa expired and she returned to Lebanon.

Kassir taught high school in her hometown for two years, making $300 a month. “I had to look for something else,” she said. “A job opportunity came up in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. I taught in Dubai at a high school for four years and then I moved to the college level.”

Though she and her students in Dubai spoke the same language, their dialects were completely different. Their cultures were also very dissimilar. “Relating to these young ladies and helping them get an education in a very male-dominant society was empowering,” Kassir said. “I loved playing that role of empowering those young ladies and seeing them take government jobs. It was a wonderful experience.”

While living in Dubai, Kassir used her green card to travel back to the United States each summer to visit friends and family. On one trip, an immigration officer pulled her aside and took her green card, telling her that to get it back she would have to move to the U.S. and become a permanent resident. She returned to Dubai and resigned from the college.

“I resigned because I did not want to lose the option [of returning to the U.S.]. In the long run, I wanted to be back in the U.S. and to pursue my life here,” she said.

She now works for Western Colorado Community College, laying a foundation in math for students who aren’t prepared for college-level courses. She feels her work opens doors for students who otherwise would not have these opportunities. In particular, she enjoys working with non-traditional students who are returning to school after years away.

“I love all my students, but I see the eagerness and the will — the tremendous will, I mean, they are tenacious — of those nontraditional students who want to come back and make a better life for themselves,” she said. “It’s been a pleasure for me to watch them realize their dream.”

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