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Geographer Wins Alumni Association’s Faculty Student Service Award

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Zia Salim, Titan alumnus and assistant professor of geography, knows engaging students requires stretching learning beyond the classroom and putting curiosity and new skills to work in research and hands-on projects.

The reward, he says, is seeing students reach their goals.

“A huge part of my role as an educator is to service the students. My philosophy is that it’s important for us to help them inside and outside the classroom, and it’s really satisfying to connect them with professional opportunities,” said Salim, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography at CSUF before receiving his doctorate in geography through a joint doctoral program between UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State University.

This month, geography graduate student Maelynn Dickson returned the favor to her mentor with the nomination that led the CSUF Alumni Association to select Salim as its Distinguished Faculty Student Service Award recipient. He received the award at the May 12 Alumni Association Appreciation Night.

“He constantly makes an effort to reach out to students to make sure they understand and are fulfilling all the necessities to succeed,” wrote the Geography Club president, who took to heart Salim’s suggestion that she get more involved and active on campus to make herself stand out in the workforce.

“Dr. Salim makes us all feel like family because he cares so much,” she wrote in the nomination. “His student dedication and determination to make students the best they can be is the reason why I believe he deserves recognition, which he has never asked for or even feels the need to have [I believe].”

Salim is diligent about connecting students with conferences and internships, as well as work-service and work-research opportunities, because many of the experiences are “life-changing,” the students tell him.

In January, Salim and Casey Crosbie, a lecturer in social work, co-organized a campus deployment center for Orange County’s biannual count of the homeless population, merging studies in geography and social work with a hands-on learning opportunity and a project to create a solution.

More than 200 CSUF students and 10 faculty members comprised two-thirds of the group deployed from the center. The CSUF teams took on the most maps — 78 of 270 — of any deployment center in the county.

“I enjoy the ability to say that I played a small part in informing students of that opportunity they went after, which contributed to their growth,” Salim said.

“I’m very surprised by the award and really humbled, because it’s a large institution with so many people doing things for the University, the students and the community,” he said. “Just to be recognized is very gratifying.”