Outstanding Young Texas Ex Rik Zafar: No Lame Duck

In his days as a UT undergraduate, Rik Zafar was appointed the “duck” of the Tejas Club, a prestigious position requiring the telling of a joke before each meeting.

At the end of our interview, Zafar proved his qualifications for such a role.

“Just make me sound smart,” he instructed. “Use synonyms or whatever you need to do.”

Perhaps a jokester at heart, Zafar certainly takes the duties of his job seriously. As director for countering violent extremism for the National Security Council, it’s a necessity.

“A lot of people want to fight terrorism,” he says. “I want to win.”

This attitude has led Zafar far—from a UT student to a White House employee.

After graduating with a B.A. in Plan II and then a J.D. from the law school, Zafar worked in a Houston law firm starting in 2000. In 2004, he took a job at the Department of Justice working for the Initiative to Combat Post-9/11 Discriminatory Backlash.

After a couple of years, he joined the Department of Homeland Security in the Office for Civil Rights and Liberties where he worked until 2009, when he joined the National Counterterrorism Center.

In addition to a determined attitude, Zafar also has a burnt-orange background to which he credits much of his success.

“UT provided me with a number of opportunities, including an interesting career, and the chance to be part of a community that comes with being a UT graduate,” he says.

Zafar, who was hired for his job at the Department of Justice by a fellow UT graduate and who wears his Texas lanyard to work, remains in contact with friends from UT, including some professors.

In May, Zafar formed another connection with his alma mater when he was presented with the Outstanding Young Texas Ex Award.

OYTEX, as it’s called, is given to four standout alumni under 40 years old. And whether he’s telling jokes or combating terrorism, Zafar stands out.

See the rest of the winners here and nominate deserving candidates here.


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