Samantha Caras: Pioneering new approaches to University Counselling | Aga Khan Academies

Samantha Caras: Pioneering new approaches to University Counselling

Samantha Caras is from Southern California in the United States and has worked as a University Counsellor at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa for four years. Her budding journey first began in India where she worked as an Academy Fellow for a year at the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad supporting the leadership curriculum, helping out with college essay writing and teaching yoga before embarking on her role as a University Counsellor. 

During her five years with the Academies, Samantha said her work changed the trajectory of her professional and personal life. 

“It showed me that small opportunities, like being sent to a conference can change the course of your life,” Samantha said. 

After being mentored in AKA Hyderabad, Samantha set out on a whirlwind experience at AKA Mombasa as a full-time University Counsellor. 

“Coming to Mombasa has been exciting because I was able to have a lot of ownership over my work and could structure the office however I wanted,” Samantha said. “The flexibility and creative license I was given allowed me to build and restructure the university counselling programme to fit the diverse needs of our students.” She also said she enjoyed being immersed in many cultures, owing to the diversity of the school, and making friends from all over the world has helped her gain an overseas family for life. 

Samantha said what she will miss the most is working closely with the students on their essays, being a part of High-achieving, Low-income (HALI) Access Network (an association of non-profit organisations in Africa that work with high-achieving, low-income students to access international higher education opportunities) and living in beautiful Mombasa. She also said she’s learnt quite a lot professionally, especially about the role of culture and background in higher-education advising.

During her time and position at the Academy, Samantha achieved quite a lot. On a personal level, she managed to finish her Master of Education in International Counselling Psychology, after which she got Minal Shah, the head of student support and well-being, to help her out with a professional internship. For the University Counselling office, Samantha managed to change the structure of the programme to include weekly lessons on topics such as writing a resume; professional communication; writing college essays; mock admissions game; applying for financial aid and scholarships; money matters; budgeting and cost of living abroad; adjusting to life after the Academy; and developed the presentations for these lessons. She also applied for the Academy to become a member of the HALI Access Network, which has increased its visibility and given it access to numerous resources and scholarship opportunities for the Talent Identification programme students over the past four years. Additionally, she contributed to the early drafts of what is now the University Counselling Handbook for the Academies network, set up the office’s social media page on Facebook, and worked with USA-based Ismaili volunteers to develop a sustainable standardised assessment test (SAT) programme for college admissions.

Minal describes Samantha as a warm, open and candid individual who worked well with the students. 

“Samantha has built significant bonds with the students she’s worked with,” Minal said. “She always encouraged and pushed the students, who always appreciated her patience, honesty and sense of humour. I will miss working with her and her enthusiasm of making things right for the students. She will be a wonderful addition to any institution she joins.”

For her next plans, Samantha said she will be moving to Quito, Ecuador to work as the college counsellor at an international school. 

“It was a difficult decision to leave Mombasa and the Academies, but I am excited for the new experience and to work on my Spanish language skills again,” Samantha said.