Meet Our Academic and Career Coordinator: Hayat Shawwa

Could we get some brief biographical information from you? Hometown, previous experience, education, etc.?

I moved from Kuwait City, Kuwait in 1990 at the age of 3 months right as the Gulf War broke out. My family landed in Raleigh, NC where we set up shop and never left. It’s been amazing to watch Raleigh grow over the past 3 decades, it has had a HUGE glow-up from what it was in the early 90’s.

I attended Broughton High School and graduated in 2008. I loved it so much that in graduate school I specifically requested my School Social Work internship to be back at Broughton. One of the many cool things about being back at my alma mater is becoming colleagues and ultimately, friends with many of my own high school teachers.

Growing up, I spent most of my summers in Egypt, which is where most of my extended family lives. These trips instilled in me a burning desire to travel from a young age. I always really looked forward to hopping on that plane as soon as school was out for the summer. Since then I’ve been traveling/backpacking through many parts of the world, including Thailand, Japan, Italy and Lebanon. I’m always on the lookout for the next great adventure or international vacation!

What precisely does an academic and career advisor do, and what’s the most satisfying part of your job?

I work with Green Hill clients on creating and executing academic goals/plans. This includes  exploring academic and career paths of interest, applying to colleges, and maintaining good academic standing once admitted.

My favorite part of the job is hearing from clients who’ve graduated from our program – it happens more than I thought it would!

I love when our clients share their academic successes with me, such as getting into a school we’d applied for together, graduating from a program they were in while with us, or making a good grade on an exam or paper.

Hearing from them after they’ve left makes me realize that I’d made enough of an impact that they thought enough of me to still keep me updated. Makes me feel like I’ve done my job with them even after they’re long gone.

What do you believe makes Green Hill stand out in its field, and why?

I think a big part of it is our leadership team. Time and time again, I watch them problem-solve with very ‘outside of the box’ thinking strategies. They work well together and complement each other. They create systems and processes that are unconventional and innovative, which I believe puts us ahead of the curve. 

Another huge part of it is the staff. We’ve created a sense of family and friendship amongst ourselves. Although I’m a part-time staff member, I still feel like the team has my back. I’m included in all staff initiatives, and definitely regarded as an important team member. I didn’t expect this when I signed up to work a few hours a week after school. This job has become a huge part of my professional identity, just as much as being a School Social Worker has.

What keeps you coming back day after day?

The residents and my coworkers. I know what it is like to feel like just another number in a treatment system. I like to think that, since I have been in their shoes, I have a unique responsibility to make them feel seen and heard while going through our program.

As for my coworkers, I have never been a part of such a supporting and energetic community. I am very proud to be a member of this team.

If Green Hill had a talent show today, what would you be doing on the main stage?

Dancing! It is a huge part of my Arab roots. 

I was on an Egyptian belly dancing dance team growing up. We would perform at the Raleigh International Festival every year for many years. I’ve since passed on the torch to the younger kids now.

Favorite spot to visit in Raleigh?

Moore Square Park… Raleigh’s version of Central Park.

I love having a mid-day picnic out there on warm sunny days.

What’s one memory you’ll always carry with you from your time here at Green Hill?

The connections I’ve made with the staff. Many of my friendships here have translated to outside of work and if I ever leave Green Hill, I know that I’ll still keep up with this group, personally and professionally.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 

“Do right by people, even if they can’t do the same.”

It’s the hardest thing we’ll ever have to do, but showing kindness to those who’ve not shown kindness to me has always brought me inner peace.

What is one thing your hometown could be known for?

Ashley Christiansen, our (sorta) new celebrity chef taking the downtown food scene by storm. My favorite restaurant of hers, which is probably her most popular, is Poole’s Diner. They’re known for their Mac and Cheese, which I’ve tried to recreate in my own kitchen with little success.

What does your ideal day look like?

Summer is my favorite season so I’d say an ideal summer day looks like hanging by the pool. I grew up swimming and coached a swim team for a few years in college as well so anytime I’m surrounded by water, it’s the perfect day. 

Can you name one female role model you have, and how that person has had such an impact?

Michelle Obama. She became our first lady the year I went off to college. I had a really tough time with the transition from high school to college, at one point getting so bad I contemplated dropping out completely.

I was constantly hearing her advocate for women’s educational rights globally, which reminded me of all the women around the world that aren’t given the opportunity to pursue higher education, and I felt an obligation to do well in school for them.

Her work was a big inspiration for me to do well in undergrad and continue onto get my master’s degree. She helped me see the amazing opportunity I’d been given in this country. 

What’s one message you wish our residents at Green Hill would always take with them?

You’re never too old to go back to school! I’ve heard some clients tell me that they’re worried about taking freshman level courses in their mid-to-late twenties because they’re going to be the oldest ones in the class. That’s when I tell them that I took an undergraduate History class with a man in his late 60’s. He had never had a chance to go to college financially up until that point.

I also tell them about the grandmothers that were in my Master’s program trying to start a second career in social work. We loved those women and we embraced them almost as grandmother figures ourselves as well by the time we got to graduation. Age is nothing but a number, never let it stop you from chasing your goals, and any age is an okay age to start or restart sometimes as important as education.

Quick Facts about Hayat

Undergraduate & Graduate school: NC State University for both

Favorite book: The Harry Potter series – I love the made up magical world of Hogwarts and am still waiting for my acceptance letter – a girl can dream!

Favorite album: On the 6 by JLo 

Favorite podcast: Clever Girl Finance. It’s a personal finance podcast geared towards women achieving financial success and independence. 

Top karaoke song choice: I’m not much of a singer, but if forced to, anything by Jennifer Lopez. 

Mountains or beach: Beach 

Favorite meal: Tacos 

Dream job as a child: Therapist- I got pretty close!