Political science major eyes graduation with debate trophies to bring home

Iman Sami 2022 ACC Debate Champions

You may have heard about “success and championships” in reference to the University of Miami, but those wins do not only happen on the field. In the classroom, students like senior Iman Sami are bringing home trophies from college debate tournaments, including the 2022 ACC Championship.

Sami did not grow up and imagine herself as a debater, but here she is, weeks away from commencement with trophies, accolades and a future wide open, thanks to her choice to attend UM.

ACC 2022 ChampionsGrowing up in London, Sami had different curricular requirements to finish the equivalent of American high school, including her specialized senior year examinations or “A-Levels.” She studied and tested on United States history and politics for her exams, building an understanding and interest in the U.S.

“We went on a trip to D.C. and New York, and I was like ‘wow, this is so cool,’ but I never had any intention on applying to school here,” Sami said. “I decided to take a gap year before going to university and did an internship in Washington, D.C., for a senator. He suggested applying to school in the U.S. and I did.”

Her three-month internship in the offices of Tim Caine and Gerry Connolly led to those and decision making about the rest of her near future offices of senator Tim Caine and representative Gerry Connolly.

“When it came to making decisions, as an international student, UM offered everything,” she said. “The balance between a city, culture and a campus, the majors that I wanted, and an interdisciplinary education. The paths aligned and I ended up here.”

Sami declared a major in political science, which she is currently completing her bachelor’s degree, and tacked on three minors, including Arabic studies, and two disciplines in the School of Communications: communications and sports administration.

According to Sami, having freedom with your education was a key factor for her. The cognate system, being able to try out different majors and courses, was important. She has dabbled in a handful of areas and settled where she wanted to with political science and chose minors that fit her interests and hobbies.

In claiming one “favorite” class she said there were a couple, but Sami’s crowing academic achievement is the undergraduate thesis that she is completing.

“They are quite rare at UM, but political science offers you the freedom to do an honors thesis if you’d like,” she said. “You have to find a professor that is willing to advise you, and you take it as a class your senior year for both semesters. It’s basically a dissertation, a master’s style thesis. That’s probably been my academic highlight because I could focus it on what I like.”

Her other listed favorites were a political science class with topics surrounding a region of South Asia that she loves, and an Arabic studies course that included feminism.

She does not spend all her time in the classroom, of course, one of her favorite places on campus is the debate squad room in the School of Communication International Building.

“Debate takes the crown as my number one commitment,” Sami said. “It’s a co-curricular thing so it’s a communications credit and an extracurricular club. When I came to UM and saw that it was here, saw there were opportunities to travel, I thought why not give it a shot.”

Sami has done more than “giving it a shot.” The London native won first place at the ACC Debate Tournament in 2022, came in second place this year at the Social Justice Debates National Championship at Morehouse in Atlanta, finished third at the 2023 ACC Debate Tournament, and rounded out 2023 with a personal win at the Civic Oceans Debate Tournament hosted here at UM.

She was ranked as the top individual speaker at the Civic Oceans Debate Tournament, and at the national championship event hosted by Morehouse she was ranked third as an individual speaker.

“It’s amazing, I love it,” Sami said. “There’s so much time and preparation beforehand, and argumentation is so technical you can’t just go and do it. You have to have years of understanding what debate is.”

Debate has offered her the opportunity to see places in the United States she might not have otherwise explored during her collegiate career, such as Burlington, Vermont and Nashville, Tennessee. As an international student, joining an organization that travels all over for tournaments helped her see the country that she studies in. 

Aside from debate, you can find Sami doing a campus tour as a P100, or maybe working with student government at a meeting where she’s on the DEI committee, or COISO, the international students organization, which she has also served on the board of.

What’s next for Iman Sami? That might be …. “to be determined,” but there is no doubt she will be actively pursuing her interests, with a strong degree and college experience in hand.

“Law school is the big overarching plan, I talk a lot, I like arguing, I’m all about justice, I think it’s pretty well-fitting for what I want to do,” she said. “I decided to take a year, maybe two, before I start law school, and I’ve been considering graduate school in Asian or Middle Eastern studies, in the UK. I’d like to go back home for a while, but I’m also applying to legal positions across that area, so likely working and going to grad school.”

Lightning round:

What is your favorite spot on campus? “I have three! One, the debate room in the Comm School, it’s comfy. Then I love being outside, so two is the law courtyard, it makes me feel like I’ve gotta just lock in, it’s outside but there are outlets, so I love that. And third is Lakeside Patio. I love always seeing people and I can’t stop talking, it’s nice seeing familiar faces, and the lake.”

What advice would you give to an incoming freshman? “Be open minded, try different classes, and different majors, what you come in with as your number one plan will not be your number one plan and that’s okay. As long as you are happy with what you are trying out and doing your absolute best, that’s what matters. Try student organizations, if it’s the puppy club or the scuba diving club, or it’s a pre-law fraternity, you can make friends and try out disciplines you never would have tried. There are so many resources available everywhere, make the most of your time, that this school just wants to give them out and if you look you can take advantage of them.”

What’s it like coming to UM as an international student? “A lot of the schools I was looking at were very isolated college towns, or not cultural hubs the same way that Miami is, I knew my education would be great, but I wanted to be in a bigger pond. I narrowed down by city, and then when else am I going to have the chance to live in this “constant vacation” and get a good degree? The transition of British to U.S. wasn’t too terrible, it was different, but I feel that in terms of the people more than anything else.”

Do you have a favorite professor? “I’ve been very fortunate that I have great relationships with most of my professors. I’m in the mix now of law school and grad school where you need letters and I had like 13 professors that were not only willing to write recommendations, but some reached out asking if I needed recs. That’s a testament to just how fortunate I’ve been with my professors. My thesis advisor, Professor Touchton, has been like a rock for me; Professor Sawafta, who’s my Arabic professor, has been amazing and I think taking gold are my two debate coaches (David Steinberg and Patrick Waldinger).”

What do you like to do off campus? I’m a big fan of desserts and food, so I love going to new restaurants, going to get ice cream in the Grove, I think the Grove is so cute and underrated. It’s easy to get to! And for shopping it’s great.