Mariama Suwaneh receives inaugural Spark Award from the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity

Suwaneh, ’17, was an engaged student leader and activist on campus and continues to build community everywhere she goes.

Mariama Suwaneh | Photo courtesy of UW OMA&D

SEEKING TO RECOGNIZE young alumni for their engagement with the UW and their work supporting communities, the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity has created a Spark Award. The first-ever recipient is Mariama Suwaneh, ’17. A student leader and community builder, Suwaneh embodies the diversity, equity and inclusion leadership that inspires young change-makers and exemplifies the spirit of the Charles E. Odegaard award, which was created in in 1968, the highest achievement in diversity at the UW.

In their letter supporting Suwaneh’s nomination, leaders from the Multicultural Alumni Partnership wrote: “Mariama has dedicated her life to racial reconciliation and demonstrates the heart of a Husky in every way. We are excited to celebrate and recognize her immense accomplishments and impact by nominating her for the inaugural Spark Award.”

Suwaneh’s work has centered on bringing people together to find common ground, build experiences and share knowledge. “Yes, I change systems, but for me, it’s about changing the hearts of people,” says Suwaneh. “We can have broken systems, but if people didn’t want them to be that way, then they wouldn’t be.”

As a student, Suwaneh served on the Black Student Union Board of Directors, the UW Race and Equity Steering Committee, the UW’s Black Campus Ministries and the ASUW as the Black Student Commissioner. She helped bring speakers to campus, advocated for a new fund for social justice programming and provided support for other Black student organizations.

After graduation, she went to work for Year Up, a nonprofit workforce development organization. Then she returned to the UW to work in development, raising money to expand the Black Graduation events and exploring ways to integrate more diversity, equity and inclusion components into annual fundraising. She was the first learning and development specialist for University Advancement.

She was the first director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the non-profit Hopelink, as well as a diversity, equity and inclusion community manager at Seattle law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. Today, Suwaneh is the assistant director of the city of Tacoma’s Office of Equity and Human Rights. And for the past five years, she has volunteered on the board of the UW Multicultural Alumni Partnership.
In addition to her UW political science degree, she holds a master’s in social science from the University of Chicago.

“We often talk about how inspirational emerging leaders can be. Mariama not only inspires her mentees and those who have served in campus student leadership after her, but she is an inspiration to many who have been in this field for some time,” says Rickey Hall, Vice President for OMA&D and University Diversity Officer. “We are incredibly proud to be honoring her.”