Meet Dr. Emad Rahim ‘03

By E. Patrice Perkins, student, Northeast Center-Latham Unit

March 28, 2014

Dr. Emad Rahim in profile with ‌Entrepreneur, mentor, professor, project manager, philanthropist and advocate for education are a few of the terms that can be used to describe Dr. Emad Rahim ’03, at right. For a child who fled a Cambodian concentration camp in his mother’s arms, and for whom school had originally been a struggle, this might seem an improbable outcome.

Despite such an inauspicious beginning, or perhaps because of it, Rahim’s perseverance and initiative have consistently helped him transform adverse circumstances such as a learning disability, failing grades and an abusive step-parent into triumph and success.

Barely squeaking through high school, Rahim attended Onondaga Community College where he continued to have difficulties. Two encounters, however, altered his perception; transforming his relationship to education and setting him on the path to social activism and entrepreneurship.

Rahim credits an Onondaga Community College instructor who also was an adjunct at Empire State College with the positive change in his scholastic endeavors. The individualized degree programs, mentor-student interaction, study resources to accommodate his dyslexia and the ability to earn credit for professional experience was just the right fit.  Rahim earned his bachelor’s degree in Community Human Service from Empire State College in 2003, and said he became “addicted to education,” and wondered, “what else can I accomplish?”

Rahim’s affinity for higher learning has earned him a master’s degree in Business Management, a master’s degree in Project Management, and a doctorate of Management, Organizational Development from Colorado Technical University. He’s also earned a postdoctoral diploma in Marketing and Management from Tulane University - A.B. Freeman School of Business and he’s conducted postdoctoral Research in Online Teaching (Management Focus), Management at the University of Maryland University College.

A second life shift occurred for Rahim when he explored his heritage as a refugee survivor of the “killing fields” of Cambodia in preparation for a role (portraying his adapted life story) in a theatrical performance, “Tales from Salt City,” about the history and cultural identity of residents in Syracuse. Because Syracuse has a large immigrant population, the performance “sparked a lot of dialogue about racism, discrimination and immigration reform and pushed me to be a community activist,” Rahim said. He had an awakening that he “could do more” as an advocate for refugees.

This awareness eventually resulted in his first dip into entrepreneurial waters; the formation of the “Human Service Association of CNY.” Initially designed as a 501(c)(3) trade association that provided free training and resources for not-for-profit human service agencies; the widespread demand for services quickly overtaxed their grant-funded financial resources. The association was restructured into a for-profit business entity that eventually became part of the monumental Destiny USA construction project in Central N.Y.

Rahim’s resiliency reminds me of the bamboo plants indigenous to his native Cambodia. Robust and hardy, given the proper environmental conditions, bamboo is among the world’s strongest, proliferate vegetation. There’s a direct correlation, however, between the success of its growth and the quality of its environment.

The emotionally catastrophic environment in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime would hardly seem the ideal atmosphere to produce accomplishments such as Dr. Emad Rahim has achieved. When he fled Cambodia he could not have imagined returning one day in the role of benefactor; empowered to positively impact the lives of others.

Today, in addition to being an Endowed Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Oklahoma State University Rahim is using his not inconsiderable entrepreneurial, project management and leadership skills to infuse vitality back into the homeland that claimed the lives of his father and brother. 

To help family members build capacity and regain self-sufficiency after the massive property loss suffered as a consequence of the Khmer Rouge regime, Rahim purchased land and equipment for them to use. This has created what he calls “a movement,” that other community members have joined in and are purchasing adjoining land to do the same thing. His next step is to help them form a Cooperative. 

From refugee and troubled student to accomplished, multi-credentialed academic, Dr. Emad Rahim’s journey is a story of persistence, creativity and determination to succeed. Even after being uprooted and transplanted to the new, strange soil of another country, Rahim is living proof that regardless of inception, nurturance under appropriate conditions can produce a strong, vibrant and unstoppable life; empowered to give back and help others along the road to creating their own dreams.