From Syria to NYC

Reem Aliessa’s Journey in International Studies and Social Responsibility

From Syria to NYC: Reem Aliessa’s Journey in International Studies and Social Responsibility


Reem Aliessa ‘14 was born and raised in NYC to Syrian immigrant parents. Her passion for International Studies was shaped in large part by her family’s Arab-American identity and nurtured by the resources and opportunities at the Colin Powell School. Today, she works as the Vice President and Senior Program Manager at Citi Volunteers, where she leverages her education and experiences to make a positive social impact. Her journey from CCNY to a leadership role in corporate social responsibility exemplifies the transformative power of education and dedication. 

Where are you from and what is your background story?

I was born and raised in the heart of NYC. My parents immigrated from Syria, and my Arab-American identity sparked my interest in international studies and helped shape who I am today. During high school, my family decided to move back to Syria, marking my first time living outside the United States. The cultural shock I experienced strengthened me into a resilient person and made me appreciate many things in life that I had taken for granted, such as having electricity all day or access to the internet. Although I missed New York and my friends, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about Arab culture and traditions that shaped my identity today.

I returned to the U.S. to start college and opted to take the GED instead of going through the process of evaluating high school credits. After completing my GED, I attended LaGuardia Community College to complete an Associate's Degree. After LaGuardia, I decided to transfer to CCNY with aspirations to join the Foreign Service and although I didn't pursue that specific career path, I am very happy with where I am today.

What brought you to CCNY and to the Colin Powell School?

I applied to CCNY because it was the only CUNY college with an International Studies program and a Diplomat-in-Residence. Since I wanted to join the Foreign Service, I knew that CCNY would provide the classes and resources I needed to get on the right track. 

What is your passion or purpose behind pursuing what you did at City College?

My passion for pursuing a major in International Studies and a minor in English stemmed from my interest in global affairs. I was always curious to learn about other cultures and political systems abroad because to me the world seemed so connected yet so distant. The decision to minor in English closely relates to my joy of reading, literature, and creative writing.

Briefly, how has your career unfolded? How did City College and/or the Colin Powell School help you to get where you are in your career?

My career has unfolded uniquely, and I value this journey because I have learned and developed at every step. My time at City College, particularly the classes offered by the Colin Powell School, allowed me to learn about global issues, international law, political economy, and other topics that are essential for my field. 

Do you have any significant memories or accomplishments from your career or time at City College / Colin Powell School that you would like to share?

Two of my favorite memories from CCNY were studying abroad and participating in the National Model United Nations. I had the great opportunity to receive the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship and the Study/Travel Opportunities for CUNY Students (STOCS) Scholarship to study abroad for a summer in Morocco. During my participation in the program, I took an advanced Arabic language course and interned at a local nonprofit organization, Al-Noor, which served youth with disabilities.

I also enjoyed participating in the National Model United Nations and much of what I learned then prepared me for my current role. As a member, I developed a better understanding and practice of research, writing, public speaking, and negotiation skills all taught in an interactive environment. Throughout this experience, I made great friends and met inspiring peers through this experience.

Do you have any advice you could give to current or future students?

Be present. We all have so many things going on in life, and it can be a challenge to be fully present at any moment. For instance, we may attend class or participate in campus events but spend time replying to text messages or emails, missing out on significant opportunities to network or important details discussed in class. It's critical to be present in the moment and practice active listening; these skills will be very helpful for any career.

What are your future aspirations for your career?

I want to advance my career in the corporate social responsibility field to continue helping make a positive social impact in our community.

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