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Mariama Suwaneh to Receive the Inaugural Spark Award

Mariama Suwaneh smiling wearing a green leather jacket and black undershirt. She is standing in front of a green-leafed monstera plant in a room with white walls. The University of Washington Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity has announced Mariama Suwaneh, ’17, as the inaugural recipient of the OMA&D Spark Award. As an actively engaged student at the UW and an avid community builder since graduation, Suwaneh embodies the diversity, equity and inclusion leadership that inspires young changemakers and exemplifies the spirit of the Charles E. Odegaard award.

In a letter of support, President of the University of Washington Alumni Association (UWAA) Multicultural Alumni Partnership (MAP) Jaebadiah Gardner, J.D., and Vice President Sumona Das Gupta, J.D. praised Suwaneh for her service to the UW and for her many accomplishments so quickly after graduation. “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 Sparks Award.”

Suwaneh’s work while at the UW and since graduating has centered on bringing people together to find common ground to share thoughts and ideas, and to create space for building experiences and sharing knowledge. Her success is built on working within systems to create more equitable access and processes by changing people’s hearts and minds. “Yes, I change systems, but for me, it’s about changing the hearts of people,” said Suwaneh. “We can have broken systems, but if people didn’t want them to be that way, then they wouldn’t.”

While studying at the UW, Suwaneh served on the UW Seattle Black Student Union Board of Directors, participated on the UW Seattle Race and Equity Steering Committee, held a leadership role with UW Seattle Black Campus Ministries, and in her senior year served as the ASUW Black Student Commissioner. As head of the Black Student Commission, she worked to bring speakers to campus, advocated for a new student fund centered on social justice programming, and provided support and resources for the other Black student organizations on campus. Suwaneh recalls the work she put in to launch an internship program for the ASUW Black Student Commission that is still active after her graduation and has been adopted by many other student commissions on campus since.

Suwaneh’s commitment to students and DEI initiatives did not stop when she graduated from the UW. After graduation she went to work for Year Up, a nonprofit that supports low-income 18 to 24-year-olds to acquire tech training, internships and a foot into the tech industry. Next, she came back to the UW, this time working with the UW Advancement Annual Giving Team. As one of the first CASE residents, her work on that team included raising funds to support the expansion of UW Black Graduation and to help develop a strategy integrating more DEI components into annual fundraising efforts. Suwaneh continued her time at the UW by becoming the first learning and development specialist for University Advancement.

Other roles in her career to date have been with Hopelink as the first director of equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as a DEI community manager at Seattle law firm Davis Wright Tremaine where she helped establish affinity and employee resource groups. Today Suwaneh is the assistant director of the City of Tacoma’s Office of Equity and Human Rights and assistant chief equity officer – a position that she describes as a “dream come true.” For the past five years, Suwaneh has served on the executive board of the University of Washington Alumni Association Multicultural Alumni Partnership.

In addition to her work advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, Suwaneh is co-founder of the Edenhood Collective, a community for women of color to build relationships that are centered in faith and flourish together. The Edenhood Collective was formed over the COVID-19 pandemic and at first only met virtually. Since then, the community has grown. It now comprises of women who live across the United States and now includes both in-person and virtual activities to discuss difficult life situations and to share mutual support.

Suwaneh holds a degree from the University of Washington in Political Science, and a Master’s degree in Social Science with an emphasis in Political Science from the University of Chicago. Her future plans are to apply to a doctoral program in 2025. “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,” said Rickey Hall, Vice President for OMA&D and University Diversity Officer. “We are incredibly proud to be honoring her with the inaugural Spark Award.”

On May 15, 2024, The Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity and its Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program Board will present Mariama Suwaneh with the Spark Award at the annual Celebration Gala, along with the Charles E. Odegaard Award to the Hon. Leonard Forsman, and awarding recognition scholarships to outstanding UW students excelling academically.

About the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

We create pathways for diverse populations to access postsecondary opportunities, nurture and support their academic success, and cultivate a campus climate that enriches the educational experience for all. Our programs serve over 25,000 students in 86 school districts, 179 schools and 19 two-year colleges through the state of Washington as they prepare and plan for college; over 6,500 UW undergraduate students with new student orientation, academic advising, instructional support, mentoring, financial aid and scholarship opportunities; and 450 students as they prepare for, apply to, and succeed in graduate and professional programs. Find out more at

About the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program Board of Trustees

Established in 1971, the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program (FEOP) Board of Trustees promotes academic excellence for underrepresented, educationally and economically disadvantaged students. The FEOP board serve as an advisory pipeline between the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) and the community and provide counsel to the vice president on resource development and diversity initiatives. FEOP joins OMA&D in selecting the University of Washington Charles E. Odegaard Award and student scholarship recipients and serving as a host for Celebration. Find out more at

About the OMA&D Spark Award

The Spark Award will formally acknowledge a community member whose diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leadership inspires young changemakers, and exemplifies the spirit of the Charles E. Odegaard award. This award will recognize the accomplishments of a recent UW graduate, who made significant DEI contributions during their time as a University of Washington student and continues to do so post-graduation. Find out more about the Spark Award online at