Class Acts: Noor Bekhiet

Noor Bekhiet created an online market to support immigrant and refugee artisans. Photo: Joe Angeles/WashU.

Posted by Diane Toroian Keaggy April 16, 2021

 

This story is part of the annual Class Acts series, a celebration of remarkable graduating students at Washington University in St. Louis.

Noor Bekhiet grew up in an Arabic-speaking home in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood while attending a French language school. So she learned early the beauty of different cultures and the value that immigrants bring to America.

Bekhiet brings that sense of discovery to SunPop Sook, a virtual pop-up market where immigrant and refugee artists and makers showcase their jewelry, artwork, fragrances, and other products.

“I come from a community of immigrant lawyers and doctors,” said Bekhiet of Milwaukee, whose parents are Egyptian immigrants. “They are successful, but I’ve realized that in my homeland of Egypt, there is also this reverence for the arts. Sometimes that gets lost when immigrants come to America because they are focused on making a better life. So I wanted to create a way for immigrants and refugees to have a marketplace. But also I wanted to create a way for this work to be more valued.”

The market (sook means market in Arabic) was born out of her work as a Fox-Clark Civic Scholar at the Gephardt Institute. It also taps into her education at Olin Business School, where she is studying economics and strategy, and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, where she is studying architecture. Bekhiet also helps her vendors build brand identity, scale their businesses, and develop new products—work that will continue when she attends IE University in Madrid.

“I’ve been able to use everything I’ve learned throughout my four years here to uplift and empower these makers,” said Bekhiet, also a Rodriguez Scholar, Student Entrepreneurial Program (StEP) business owner, and designer at Colour magazine. “I’ve also tried to recreate the sense of community I’ve experienced across campus. From an old Turkish couple who makes lamps to the second-generation Filipino jewelry maker to the Cuban-American who makes her own makeup, they all support each other.”