Jewelry, Sacramento State are both traditions for Sharif family

The first thing that happens when you walk into Sharif Jewelers is you are offered a cup of Turkish coffee and some baklava.

“My dad showed me that’s what you do when you greet people, you welcome them for a cup of coffee to break the ice and make them feel part of your family and part of your business,” says co-owner Mahmud Sharif ’84 (Mechanical Engineering). “It’s a Middle Eastern tradition, to be really hospitable, and I carried that with me.”

Tradition is big in the Sharif family. There’s the family business, which Sharif’s grandfather started in Jerusalem in the 1930s. Sharif and his brother Hazem continued the tradition by opening their own shop in Sacramento, which today has become a chain of stores run in part by their children.

Then there is a newer tradition taking shape: Sacramento State. Mahmud Sharif came to the United States to study at the University, and his three oldest children – Naser, Laila and Ali – as well as his nephew Omar all are Hornet alumni as well. His youngest son, Mohammad, or “Moe,” is currently a student.

“Sacramento State is a great school, especially for engineering,” he says. “I recommended it to them. It’s close to home. This is the place where they grew up. And they loved it.”

Several factors contributed to the Sharif children following their father to Sacramento State, including tradition, proximity, and reputation.

“For us it was part of the legacy to follow in his footsteps,” says Ali Sharif ’16 (Marketing), who now is the company’s vice president of marketing. “Working here, it was easy to go over to Sac State and they’re known for their business program, so for us it fit right in.”

A photo of Mahmud Sharif holding his Sac State diploma, standing behind a jewelry counter.
Mahmud Sharif shows off his Sacramento State diploma. Sharif immigrated to the United States from Jerusalem to study mechanical engineering. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

As a child growing up in Jerusalem, Mahmud Sharif says being in his father and grandfather’s shop was “amazing,” and it’s where he fell in love with jewelry and the family business. After school he would help out at the store, watching and learning as his father designed jewelry, ran the store and interacted with customers.

In 1980, Mahmud moved to the United States and began his time at Sacramento State. In addition to his engineering major, he minored in art, something that would come in handy down the line when he began designing jewelry. Around the same time, he and Hazem opened Sharif Jewelers on Howe Avenue.

“Sac State was really great,” he says. “I had the best years of my life. I had a lot of friends, did a lot of activities, and I had a great time.”

Following in their father’s footsteps started early for the Sharif children. They too practically grew up inside the store and worked there throughout college. Today, alongside Ali, Nasser ’11 (Business Management) serves as operations manager, while Laila ’13 (Psychology) works as a designer. Customers who they met as kids are now bringing their children and grandchildren in to purchase engagement rings.

“We’d come in on the weekends, we’d help our dad,” Laila says. “The customers, some of them we grew up with since we were little. A lot of our jewelers and employees we’ve had for over 10 years, so they literally watched us grow. It’s been fun.”

The jewelry store, they say, provided a perfect place to practically apply the knowledge they were gaining in classrooms at Sacramento State.

“What you learned in class, you could apply in actual work,” Naser says. “Go learn about it and come after to one of the shops and apply what you learned and discuss what you learned to help grow the business.”

(Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
Ali Sharif (left) and his father, Mahmud Sharif, examine a piece of jewelry. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Like many Sacramento State alumni, the Sharif children all stayed in their hometown – Moe plans to join the business after graduating next year – to continue the Sharif tradition started by their grandfather nearly a century ago.

“Sacramento’s just home,” Laila says. “It gave us wonderful opportunities, it’s always been good to us, and now it’s our time to give back. We can work and continue to build relationships with people and give back to the community that gave us everything to start with.”

Her father agrees.

“I really feel like Sac State formed me into who I am,” Mahmud says. “And I really like the atmosphere and the people and the diversity here in Sacramento. I want my kids who grew up here to live and excel here.”

Top photo, from left: Naser Sharif, Mohammad Sharif, Mahmud Sharif, Laila Sharif, and Ali Sharif. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

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CSSA President Mia Kagianas promotes student voices, a ‘caring campus’

It’s a story Mia Kagianas probably has told more times than she can count. During her first year as a Sacramento State student, unsure how to make friends, she sat at a table outside the campus Starbucks with a sign reading “Free conversations,” waiting for someone to join her.

Eventually, as she was packing up to leave, another student finally took her up on the offer. The conversation was awkward, she says, but it gave her enough confidence to walk to the University Union and sign up to host a radio show on KSSU, an action that set off a chain of events culminating in her election as Associated Students Inc. president for the 2017-18 school year.

“Being able to express myself through KSSU, even if there wasn’t anyone listening, was my chance to share what my experience had been and let out some of the struggles I was facing,” Kagianas says. “That’s when I first realized the power of sharing student stories, what we face each day.”

Sharing student stories will remain at the center of Kagianas’ life in the weeks and months ahead: She recently was elected president of the California State Student Association (CSSA) and will spend her final year at Sacramento State advocating on behalf of students across the CSU.

“It’s important that students’ voices are heard because (ours are) the lived experiences,” Kagianas says, adding that challenges students face such as housing insecurity and loan debt can have a ripple effect throughout the entire regional economy. “We can be the representation and symbols behind whether a system is working properly.”

As ASI president, she focused especially on fostering a “caring campus” at Sacramento State. The topic hits home for Kagianas, who came to the University from a small suburb outside Chicago knowing very few people and unable, because of work obligations, to devote any time to extracurricular activities. She felt isolated. Faculty and even Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen were there for her in her time of need, offering support and directing her to campus resources.

Over the previous year, she worked to make ASI and its programming more accessible to students, changing election bylaws so more students can participate, improving communication to students, and raising the visibility of ASI programs such as Peak Adventures, the Aquatic Center, and the weekly food pantry.

“We’ve redefined what it means to belong,” she says. “We have experiences on campus that are available to students, but maybe students are timid or they don’t feel like it’s for them. Sacramento State and the people on this campus try to tear down those ideas of ‘You can’t do this’ and make it, ‘You can do this, this place is for you.’ ”

Creating a more caring campus is a goal that has been shared with Nelsen, with whom Kagianas has developed a strong relationship and considers a mentor.

“I’ve learned a lot from (Nelsen) and how he leads, which has inspired my leadership,” she says. “But he also trusts me with decisions. Before he makes certain university decisions, he’ll ask me what my perspective is. I feel really empowered by that trust.”

Nelsen praised Kagianas’ commitment to her fellow Hornets and her work to promote a caring campus.

“It has been my absolute privilege to get to know Mia over the past few years, and to work so closely with her during her presidential term,” he says. “Mia’s heart for her fellow students and her tireless efforts to make Sac State a place of belonging are outstanding. I look forward to seeing her over the next year while she completes her degree, and then to watch her journey after she leaves Sac State.”

Though she came from out of state, Sacramento was not completely foreign to Kagianas. It’s where her father spent much of his childhood, and where she visited often as a kid to see family and to go skiing in Tahoe. Growing up in a family of small business owners, she knew she wanted to major in a business-related field, eventually settling on human resources management and entrepreneurship as concentrations, the latter of which she had been interested in since it was the result she got after taking a careers test in the sixth grade.

“I was really thankful Sacramento State offered a concentration in entrepreneurship because it’s becoming more and more relevant in our society and not that many colleges have it as an emphasis,” she says.

Sixth grade also was where she began her time in student government, becoming elected to her middle school student council. In high school, she broke the mold by serving as the student body president all four years. At Sacramento State, she previously served with ASI as director of undeclared students and director of business administration, as well as vice president of finance for the CSSA.

“This is a campus where I’ve found who I am, I’ve found what my passions are, and I found a family that will be very, very hard for me to leave,” she says. “I hope to always be very strongly connected to it no matter where I am or what I’m doing in my life.”

Sacramento State alumna is ABC10’s Teacher of the Year

So many of the Sacramento region’s educators are Sacramento State alums, and now one of them has been named ABC10’s 2018 Teacher of the Year.

Alma Lepe-Santana ’97 (Family and Consumer Sciences), Credential ’11, a special education preschool teacher at Ehrhardt Elementary School in Elk Grove, received the honor at an award’s ceremony last week in downtown Sacramento. The award comes with a $5,000 check from Schools Financial Credit Union, and an additional prize package courtesy of Papa Murphy’s, Sizzler and other sponsors.

Lepe-Santana also was featured as ABC10’s Teacher of the Month for April 2018, and she spoke about coming to the United States from Mexico as a child, speaking only Spanish, and knowing what it felt like to need additional help as a student.

“I want(ed) to give back to this wonderful country I love, and I said, ‘The way to do it would be in special education where there’s so much need for people that know other cultures and other languages like myself,’ ” she told the station.

Sacramento State’s College of Education is a co-sponsor of the Teacher of the Month program.