A life that leaves a legacy

Saron Almaw

ሁሉም ነገር ያልፋል. Hu-lum neh-gehr yal-fal. All things shall pass.  

This saying was ingrained in Saron Almaw, a 2022 alumna from of the University of Washington Bothell’s School of Business. “My mom would always say it to me,” she said. “It taught me to never linger on my current troubles and to find strength within.” 

The past two years Almaw needed that reminder from her mother more than ever. Between the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, her family members getting ill, the Black Lives Matter protests and a war erupting in her home country of Ethiopia, she struggled to get through each day. 

“But after months of drowning in self-pity, I was reminded of my mother’s words,” she said — and it helped her move forward for herself and for others. 

Lifting others 

While Almaw had volunteered with a number of organizations prior to the pandemic, in 2020, she decided to join a nonprofit, the Washington Community Alliance, so that she could begin helping other immigrants as well as communities of color. “One of my primary goals was to get people to fill out the census as that played a critical role in making sure the community got proper funding,” Almaw said. “I did a lot of educational outreach and made sure that people were aware of that.” 

According to Gavriella Schuster, Almaw’s mentor in UW Bothell’s Mentorship EDGE program, “Saron is highly motivated to give back to the community and lift others up to achieve greatness. She has participated in more than a half dozen organizations to speak on behalf of those who are underrepresented. She is not one to shy away from an opportunity to speak up and rally others.” 

In recognition of Almaw’s commitment to community building, she has been named one of the 2022 Husky 100 honorees. Each year, the UW recognizes 100 undergraduate and graduate students from the Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses who are making the most of their time at the University. 

The recipients actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom, applying what they learn to make a difference on campus, in their communities and for the future. Almaw is one of 11 students from UW Bothell to be recognized this year

Walking the walk 

Most who enter the business field seek their own financial success. Almaw, however, seeks the financial success of others. Her senior year of high school she learned and became passionate about corporate social responsibility. “It’s about holding corporations accountable for their business operations and whether they are upholding ethical labor practices,” she said. 

Wanting to get involved in the movement, Almaw joined United Students Against Sweatshops her first year of college at Gonzaga University. It is a student organization with chapters at more than 250 different colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. 

Through the organization, she helped with campaigns to advocate for workers’ rights and livable wages for factory workers in Bangladesh and Indonesia. “We encouraged Gonzaga to include the workers’ rights consortium — an independent labor rights monitoring organization focused on protecting the rights of workers who sew apparel and make other products sold in the United States, particularly those bearing college or university logos — in their contracts with major brands,” she said. 

After months of campaigning and educating university leaders, Gonzaga became the third university in the nation to include it in their contracts. “It was a huge victory,” Almaw said. 

Amplifying voices 

Her sophomore year of college she transferred to UW Bothell where, according to Dr. David Shaw, lecturer in the School of Business, Almaw excelled. “Saron has been one of the best undergraduates I have had in 25 years of teaching,” he said. “She made my job easier by just being who she is and wanting to learn, network and share.” 

Almaw pursued an internship at Amazon as a workplace health and safety specialist. She said the position was predominately talking to workers on the ground, learning about their roles and the risks they face. “I then took their input and made sure someone who has power heard it,” she said. “I also found and implemented solutions to issues that negatively impacted the safety of the employees.” 

In addition to getting involved in the broader community, Almaw immersed herself in campus clubs and activities. While she enjoyed them all, she said the Mentorship EDGE program had the greatest impact on her personal and professional development. 

The program is designed to empower students to transform their lives and the world through personalized mentoring opportunities from exceptional business leaders. “My mentor Gavriella, a C-level Microsoft executive and global thought leader, was amazing,” Almaw said. “She was open about her successes as well as what she would have done differently. She reminded me that everyone makes mistakes in their careers and gave me advice on how to handle it when that eventually happens. 

“Because of her, I feel confident stepping into my next professional chapter.” 

The mentee mentors 

Schuster said that although she was the mentee, she felt mentored, too. 

“I worked with Saron over the last couple of years through the program, and I have learned as much or more from her through the mentoring experience,” she said. “As a Husky 100 recipient, she will make the University extremely proud. I know she will do great things and be an ally for the underserved communities in Washington. 

“She can relate as an immigrant, as a member of the Black community and as a first-generation college student. She has very high aspirations to achieve more and give back in a way that rarely a 20-something person has.” 

Almaw is humbled by the award and said she never imagined she would be recognized for this work. “It has never been about the recognition,” she said. “It has always been about investing in and helping my community. More than anything though, I am thrilled to see all the work the other Husky 100 recipients have done. 

“Knowing we are all making a positive impact is inspiring and motivates me to push on.” 

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