Happy Return

Oberlin was Samia Mansour’s top college choice. Now years removed from her graduation, she chose it all over again.

December 8, 2023

Communications Staff

Samia Mansour headshot.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97

It’s been a few semesters since Samia Mansour was a religion student at Oberlin. In the years that followed her graduation in 2010, she worked for Oberlin College Hillel and for Cleveland-area nonprofits that support interfaith couples and families, as well as women and gender non-conforming individuals. Along the way, she completed a master’s degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University.

In fall 2023, Mansour returned to campus as assistant dean and director for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. It’s a role that interacts closely with students and complements the work of her colleague, Multifaith Chaplain David Dorsey.

We caught up with Mansour in her first weeks on campus, to learn more about her student years and the journey that brought her back. 

You originally came to Oberlin from nearby Canton, Ohio. What appealed to you about it at the time?

So many things! Oberlin was the first school I visited, and I absolutely fell in love. I compared every other school I visited to Oberlin, so when it came time to apply, I knew Oberlin was my no. 1. Oberlin was so different from the community and school I was coming from, and even though it's not far from where I live, I used to joke that I needed a passport to come to Oberlin. 

I felt like a big fish in a small pond in high school. I had so many dreams, interests, and things I was passionate about, and I didn't feel I had a place to put that energy. I was a first-generation and low-income student as well, so I knew that college was my only real chance to make it out and be able to pursue my passions. Oberlin's historic achievements inspired me; I felt represented by the progressive and inclusive campus environment. I appreciated the commitment to global learning, and I loved the quirkiness of Oberlin students. My life was changed by my decision to become an Obie. 

How did your career path take shape?

I honestly didn't come to Oberlin with any specific career aspirations. My first goal was to make it to college, and I knew I wanted to find a path to do good in the world. I was confident I would find my way and wanted to keep my options open.

Looking back, I think I had a hard time imagining all the possibilities of what could be. As the first in my family to attend college, no one I knew had a job or career they loved—work was a means to a paycheck. Folks didn't have an opportunity to pursue their passions, and so I didn't know what it would look like if I did. I started by taking classes that piqued my interest and ultimately found that I couldn't stop taking courses in the Religion Department. I was on a spiritual journey of my own, and once I opened that door, there was no closing it. Every role I've held after Oberlin has been in the realm of religious and spiritual life.

A few years after graduating, I decided to get my master's in social work. I believe that social work skills are universally transferable; you can find social workers in all kinds of organizations and roles. I knew that in whatever position I took, I thrived when working with people and supporting them on their path. And so social work felt like a natural fit. It opened up many possibilities for where my future career could go and gave me a lot of tangible skills. 

I often wished that I was one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted to be in the world; I thought that would be so much easier! But I am grateful for my journey, the incredible people I've met, and the experiences I've had along the way.
Tell us about your role on campus.

My role is focused on working with student groups, supporting student needs as they relate to religious and spiritual life, and working collaboratively with other departments in the Center for Intercultural Engagement. However, I am still learning what this role is and can grow into, and I am open to learning more from folks on campus about what they would like to see from our office.

What's your favorite thing that's changed about Oberlin since you were a student?

There are many new opportunities for student support and career development that I don't remember from when I was a student. New courses and concentrations and professors—I wish I could be a student again! Student life has evolved in a wonderful way since I was here before, and I love to see all of the collaboration and restructuring that better serves student needs. 
What's your favorite thing that hasn't changed?

Womb chairs, ExCos, OSCA, Art Rental, Organ Pump, TGIF, Winter Term, the Feve, Blue Rooster.
What's one thing you would hope every student knows about the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life?

Religious and spiritual exploration is a lifelong journey. Whether you identify as traditionally observant, open-minded skeptic, spiritually curious, or grounded in your faith, we are here for you without judgment.

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