Connection is Vital for Success
Staff: Academic Support Coordinator
“When I went to college in Washington, D.C., I was always pushing myself to do more, and eventually felt like I couldn’t breathe. I really appreciate how the faculty, staff and students at Life University really take care of themselves,” said Cameron Bakkar, an Academic Support Coordinator in the Student Success Center. “Grades are obviously still important, but there’s a holistic recognition that they aren’t the only thing that makes up a person’s value. I love that energy.”
LIFE has been in Bakkar’s life since she was a baby. She grew up in Kennesaw, Georgia, and both of her parents went to the University. Her father studied Chiropractic, and her mom studied psychology. “I was on campus pretty often when I was growing up,” Bakkar said. “My dad actually started in 1996. He stopped when we were growing up and then continued the program when he came back around 2010.” While she had been introduced to LIFE at a young age, it took Bakkar a while to come work as a staff member.
Bakkar loved the movie “Anastasia” as a child and adored it growing up. When she got into eighth grade, she learned Anastasia was a real person. “I was fascinated with the fact that she was real, even though the real ending was much sadder than the Disney version.” Bakkar said. “It got me into studying conflict, and I started really diving into other wars and dictatorships.” Throughout high school, Bakkar was in an international affairs magnate program. “What’s funny is at the time, I did not like history, but around junior year, once I started realizing it was a story with a thread, I started to see the connections between one event and the next.”
Her love of studying war conflicts led Bakkar to study international affairs at George Washington University with a concentration in conflict resolution. “I loved learning about different wars and discussing what kinds of mediation could have happened at different stages of the conflict.” Bakkar minored in Arabic and focused on Middle Eastern conflicts, concentrating on Syria for her senior thesis.
When she was getting ready to graduate, Bakkar noticed that her peers were going into consulting, but she didn’t want that rigorous, high-stress lifestyle. She recalled thinking, “That’s not how I want to start my career.” She went back through all the internships and jobs she had in the past and tried to figure out her favorite ones. “I remembered doing one semester at Kennesaw State University, and I really enjoyed tutoring other students and building them up. It was my favorite job by far.”
Bakkar realized because she liked helping students so much, she wanted to transition from international affairs and get more involved with education. “[Washington] D.C. is also very saturated with non-profit and government work, and I recognized I wanted a breather.” Bakkar decided to come back home to Georgia where her family lived. She knew she wanted to work on a college campus, but she didn’t know which one. At first, LIFE didn’t occur to her as an option. “It didn’t even register, but I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I might want to work at LIFE, and I looked and there was a position!”
Bakkar started working at LIFE in November 2018 as a part-time proctor for makeup exams to get her foot in the door of the education system. “When the next position became available, I’d already been doing some of the responsibilities, so it made sense,” she said. “I started off as an academic support assistant, then academic support associate and then got the coordinator position. So really it was a gradual progression.”
The Student Success Center houses three departments: counseling, disability services and academic support. Academic support has programs for students including supplemental Instruction (SI) and tutoring; educational workshops; STARS Peer mentoring program; AALPHA (African American Leaders Promoting Higher Achievement) program; and the Global Voices program. Bakkar coordinates the Campus Connections skillshops, STARS Peer Mentoring, and the Early Action program.
“Specifically, the peer mentoring program is my baby, and I make sure to match students not just on their field of study, but also on their hobbies and interests outside of that,” Bakkar said. “They always come back and say, ‘Oh my gosh! I can’t believe we got paired together; we connected so well.’ They send me pictures of them grabbing coffee together, and I love that because you’re not just getting a mentor or mentee, but you’re building a friendship. Once the mentor graduates, you have someone on the outside with the same degree that you can ask questions.”
Bakkar is dedicated to helping students feel welcome at Life University. She still proctors makeup exams about once a week. She also coordinates educational workshops, focusing on the campus connections skillshops. She checks up with her mentors and mentees to make sure they are completing their requirements, and she oversees the lab attendants.
One of the biggest benefits Bakkar experienced when coming to work for LIFE was learning about how medication affects the body and how it’s often just used as a Band-Aid instead of a long-term solution.
“I actually was struggling with bad headaches all the time, and I also had bad hip pain,” Bakkar recalled. “My doctors were telling me that I have an autoimmune disorder and tried to give me steroids, but it didn’t feel right.”
She had x-rays and an MRI and was prescribed more pain meds. “I was annoyed that if I took the pain medication, I couldn’t tell my doctor where it hurt and then couldn’t actually solve the problem instead of masking it.” Bakkar says she has learned so much from the students she works with. “I didn’t even know that foods were inflammatory, and I learned how to change my diet. It was eye opening to learn how much control we have over our bodies, and now I know to really moderate what I am eating.” She started getting chiropractic care through the Center for Health and Optimal Performance twice a week, and her headaches have decreased dramatically.
Bakkar’s best advice to students is that you can’t do LIFE alone. There are so many great people on this campus, the faculty, staff and students. In her experience, it is a very loving campus. “I know if I could go back to GW, I would have built deeper long-term connections to faculty and students that I admired,” she said. “I would say take advantage of the great people that are on this campus because they can be friends and support you for longer than just the four years that you’re here. The core of what I do is making sure to connect people and provide those services.”
“I appreciate GW, but it was also alienating because you are known by your GPA and by your degree, and that’s how they treated you. So everyone was so focused on getting an A, and the stress to perform well was so overwhelming. I feel at LIFE, grades are important, but there is more of a familial and holistic approach. We get to know the students as human beings,” she said. “I think this sets LIFE apart. Students are often not from Marietta, Georgia, they are often coming from different states and countries and to provide a little piece of home for them is so vital to their success.”
In the far future, Bakkar hopes to create educational workshops for conflict resolution. She is really inspired by the organization “Search for Common Ground.” Ultimately, LIFE provided a foundation for utilizing her conflict resolution and mediation skills in a university setting. “I feel like I am better able to teach students how to problem solve and look at situations from different angles,” she said. “This doesn’t just mean conflict with other people, but also within themselves and figuring out their path in life.”
Faces of LIFE is a story campaign that showcases members of the dynamic LIFE community, including faculty/staff, students, alumni and health science professionals. Interested in being featured or nominating a candidate? E-mail Natalie.Esparza@LIFE.edu. Read more Faces of LIFE stories.