Ali Zanial is government-minded. He has served for four years in leadership roles for Associated Students, Inc., the student government at California State University, Bakersfield. And if you get him on political subjects, he'll espouse his views on the national health care reform debate, 9/11 and the subsequent Patriot Act.
There's just one issue: Zanial can't vote - yet.
His green card makes him a permanent resident of the United States, but he has one more year until the required five-year wait is up to apply for U.S. citizenship.
"I am really looking forward to becoming a U.S. citizen," said Zanial in his Student Union office. But before then, he'll be cleaning out his office and turning in his keys, as he graduates in June from CSUB.
By the time he gets his citizenship, he may even have attained his next goal: to become president of the student government at USC, where he is headed for a four-year pharmacy program.
Zanial's trajectory to CSUB crosses hemispheres. Born in Iraq, he lived there for the first five years of his life.
"But my dad refused to call loyalty to Saddam's Baath party," Zanial said. The family was forced to leave Iraq and ended up in New Zealand - where they gained citizenship.
Their goal was to live in the United States, so Zanial's father, a doctor, secured a residency in New York City, moving the family there at the end of 2002.
After the three-year residency, he was hired by a private medical practice in Bakersfield, which brought Zanial here. Zanial graduated from Centennial High School in 2005 and started the pre-med program (biology major with chemistry minor) at CSUB.
Zanial comes from a family full of medical professionals - both his parents are doctors, and he has uncles and aunts who are doctors, dentists and pharmacists. The family is also spread out all over the world, having left Iraq to escape Saddam's regime. He has aunts and uncles in Florida, Washington, D.C., Dubai, England, and India. Some family members left to Syriah, Jordan and Turkey. And some remain in Iraq.
"It's been difficult. I've had family members pass away, shot in the street, killed from roadside bombs," Zanial said. "But a lot of them in Iraq also don't want to leave. This is their home. They say, 'We don't care if we die here. We're not leaving.'"
When Zanial was a freshman at CSUB, he says he was very shy and introverted. But becoming involved in ASI changed all that. He started as a student assistant, then served for three years as board chair.
This year he was elected vice president. He has been involved in referendum committees, the university's move to Division I, accreditation reviews, hiring committees for deans, and as student manager at the Recreation Center.
"I've gained most of my leadership abilities by being involved," he said. "I've played some big roles on campus as a student. Now I'm looking forward to getting involved with the student government at USC."
For more information:
Media ContactColleen Dillaway, Director of Public Affairs & Communications