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Faces of UMSI: Abdou Samake

Abdou Samake

BSI alum Abdou Samake graduated in December of 2019 ready to launch his professional soccer career with Pacific FC in British Columbia, Canada. Just weeks after he moved from Ann Arbor to BC, however, the COVID-19 pandemic put his first season on hold.

While he keeps up his training and waits for the Canadian Premier League to set a target for the start of the 2020 season, Samake said he’s leaning on his information education to make sense of the world in crisis.

“It's so helpful for me in my everyday life, to see what's really going on,” said Samake. “My time at UMSI was a way to shape how I view the world, how I assess information, and that's applicable to any field, anything.”

Samake, who was born in Mali and grew up in Canada, has been aiming to play soccer professionally since he was a teenager. He said getting a degree has always been a priority, though, because his family immigrated from Mali when he was young primarily for access to better education.

“I was playing with a professional academy in Montreal, and for my family, education was always really important, so I wanted to get a degree,” said Samake. “That was something I had to do.

“I heard about the combination of athletics and academics in the US, and it just made sense to me. I reached out to schools, and from a soccer perspective and a culture perspective, it made sense for me to come to Michigan.”

Samake came to U-M with an exploratory spirit, undeclared and unattached to a formal career path that would influence his major.

“It was just really what interested me, it was always around innovation, technology, design, business, kind of that crossroads,” he said.

“I took the prerequisites for the School of Information just out of curiosity because I thought that was where I wanted to direct myself. I wanted some technical experience, but I knew I couldn't hang out with the engineers. I took the classes and everything about it was just, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's what I need to be doing right now.’”

He credits the flexibility of the BSI program, faculty and staff with helping him achieve his goals ⁠— forging a unique educational experience, excelling as a three-time Academic All-Big Ten student athlete, and graduating a semester early in order to be eligible for the January 2020 draft.

“I actually created my own path, financial technology. I’m forever grateful for how flexible the School of Information has been with me, especially with choosing my electives and graduating early,” said Samake. “The ability to craft my academic experience around an industry that I’m deeply interested in was amazing. One of the highlights of my journey through the BSI program was the independent research project I completed for my capstone course. This project gave me the opportunity to investigate the current use of technology-based financial services in Bamako, Mali. This served as an incredible learning experience and an opportunity to start thinking about how I can have a meaningful impact in my native country in the future.”

“The people at UMSI are all so welcoming and so excited about my ambitions to pursue my soccer career,” he continued, specifically citing professors Gabriella Marcu and Cliff Lampe for their warmth and creative support. “They helped me put together a plan so I could graduate in three-and-a-half years and take almost all the classes I was interested in”.

“I know people in other programs may not have that luxury, and I'm incredibly happy about that because I got the chance to graduate early and went on to play now.”

And while he’s not been able to play in any professional soccer matches quite yet, Samake said his pandemic experience as a recent graduate has been humbling ⁠— and has brought out the versatility and value of his degree.

“If anything, it's testing my patience ... and it's also teaching me that things can always be taken from you. Just to appreciate every time I get to be on the field now … It's something that I'm committed to not forgetting, how much I love this game still and how much I still want to play,” he said.

“I would say my degree has just shaped how I think, and I’ve learned that's what higher education is for. We're always told many people don't end up working in the field they studied in and you end up doing something completely unrelated to what you set your mind to a lot of times at first.

“But even the way I approach information and the way I read the news in this time period, for example, is shaped by my education at UMSI. We learn so much about fake news and the content online, how these different systems work and how to filter out the good from the bad.

“One thing I always really remember from one of the classes I took with Dr. King is to approach information with skepticism, to check the sources and to dig down to understand all the assumptions being made. Just that rigorous process of making sure that things are accurate and are truthful. That's a skill that's priceless in this day and age.

“Right now we're learning that we cannot trust anyone blindly. In this day and age, even institutions and so-called experts have to be met with a critical eye. Knowing what information is, how information works on the internet, how information spreads, who's behind the content ... it's a cheat code.”