Live music returns as Samara plays an impromptu gig on a Columbia River houseboat in August 2021.

5 questions for Samara Islam

The NTEN team continues to grow! We’re excited to welcome Samara Islam as our new Program Coordinator. Samara brings a passion for community and problem-solving. I asked her five questions to help us get to know our latest teammate.

Samara Islam

What was your first job?

My first official job was in high school. I ran the audio board with an A/V team that recorded football games for local public access TV. If we want to get technical, my first job was actually in elementary school. I was fortunate enough to have a pretty sizable VHS collection growing up and rented them out to my friends and family.    

You’re a musician. What are some of your favorite bands?

We could be here a while — I love a lot of bands, and my favorites are constantly changing! These days I’ve been listening to a lot of Weezer, Against Me!, and Meg Myers. I’ve seen Everclear live more than any other band and have always had a soft spot for 90s-era Aerosmith. I also really love Green Day, The Darkness, Muse, and Bad Religion. Oh, also Motion City Soundtrack, Bruce Springsteen, and David Bowie. I could spend an eternity talking about music I like, so let’s go ahead and cut it off here for now.

What are some of your favorite local adventures?

I’m not much of an outdoor person, but I do love taking my daughter to the Oregon Zoo! I also enjoy walking around Downtown Vancouver and Portland with my wife. 

What was a favorite childhood meal?

Pizza! I have loved pizza for as long as I’ve had a conscious memory. I grew up in the 1990s, so Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles probably influenced this a lot. 

What is one new place you’d love to travel to? 

I am fascinated by early human civilizations and would love to check out the Pyramids of Giza. I also really want to go to India to see the Taj Mahal. We’re going to have to call this one a tie.

Ash Shepherd
Chief Program Officer

I got my first job in the nonprofit sector when I was 18. It was at a group home that served girls between 12 and 18. Very soon after starting, I began to grasp for the first time what a former high school teacher meant when he said, "If you want to help people, you need to be willing to work with people that need help." While it was extremely challenging at times, this work led to a deeper sense of empathy and imagining what an end result can look like for others if you genuinely put in the effort to support their success. I fell in love with doing work that truly mattered and have been in the nonprofit sector since.

In the end, I spent a decade working in social services in various settings, from schools and wilderness therapy programs to community and residential programs. Eventually, my interest in technology and how it could amplify nonprofit missions brought me to make a career shift. I spent several years working at nonprofits that consulted with other nonprofits in digital engagement, CRMs, and overall project management. I eventually found my way back into programs development when I joined the staff at NTEN.

Along the way, I earned a B.S. from the University of Montana in Resource Management and a Master's in Environment and Development from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. It took a while to figure out the throughline of my education and professional experience, but I eventually realized I love the intersections where people and other things come together (the environment, other humans, with technology).

My role at NTEN allows me to continue doing work that connects with people and organizations across the full spectrum of the nonprofit sector. My project-driven brain couldn't find a better way to continue learning from amazing people creating exciting new ways to improve our communities every day.

Outside of work, I enjoy taking a break from technology and exploring the outdoors, searching for an open stretch of trail and precious moments of solitude.