Buried in a seven-page resume reflecting 13 years of teaching, — stacked with academic awards and workshops — Samir Bitar's pre-academia work history: engineer and sandwich shop owner.
Bitar is a UM professor of Arabic language and culture who created and teaches the Arabic minor. His simple mantra, "Do your work then let life happen," led him through every dramatic career change.
At 21, Bitar finished a 5-year engineering degree and was quickly snatched up by a firm in Saudi Arabia. No job could keep Bitar for more than three years before another company offered a promotion that stole him away. Bitar worked as a civil structure engineer, site engineer, liaison, project manager and software engineer.
It was his motivation and focus that propelled his career forward.
"If you're not disciplined, a building is going to fall down," Bitar said.
After eight years in Saudi Arabia, Bitar moved to San Antonio, to accept another promotion, which he did not anticipate would be the last of his successful career. In 1989 the first Gulf War began and Bitar was dismissed.
"I was laid off for who I am," Bitar said. "I was disheartened and distraught. I would not work for anyone else."
So Bitar decided to work for himself.
He bought a storefront in Missoula and started his own restaurant: Pockets Sandwich Shop.
"America is the one country where you can do something for 15 years and then completely change," Bitar said.
After spending a decade working in rigid positions, Bitar found joy in the freedom of being self-employed. Cooking was one of his favorite pastimes, along with making people happy.
Pockets Sandwich Shop was open six days a week serving American and Mediterranean cuisine. Customers, many of them regulars, could order a turkey and tomato pita or hommus on a falafel sandwich.
The business grew over four years, gaining customers, menu items and financial stability. But when it became stagnant, Bitar felt, restless and began volunteering at his children's school.
"The feeling of being stuck on a plateau went away," Bitar said. "The students lit up like light bulbs, and you cannot put a value on that."
Through a serendipitous chain of events, Bitar went from volunteering in an elementary school to being a university professor.
From engineer to business owner to Arabic teacher, Bitar's career history is as diverse as the Pocket's menu. The one continuity is his education, dedication and ability to let life happen.