Zaki Ali, of Indianapolis, Indiana, has been named a 2022 Alumni Merit Award recipient from Southeast Missouri State University. Alumni Merit Awards have been presented annually since 1958 to Southeast alumni who have brought distinction to themselves and the University.


School and learning did not come easily for Zaki Ali. He was placed in the special education program from the fourth grade through the twelfth grade. After scoring a 7 on the ACT college entrance exam, his mother had him tested and he was diagnosed with dyslexia.  

“I graduated high school with a grade point average of 1.67,” said Ali. “Although my struggle  

with dyslexia had impacted my grades, my mother, Girtha, always expected me to attend and graduate from college as she had.” 

Ali attended a community college in Price, Utah, for two years before transferring to Southeast Missouri State University to play football for Southeast. Southeast’s then coach, Bob Smith, previously coached football at Peoria Manual High School, where Ali graduated.  

Ali graduated from Southeast in 1987 from what was then the College of Liberal Arts (now the College of Humanities and Social Sciences). After Southeast, he earned a Master of Arts in human resources training and development at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1990.  

He worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Eli Lilly and Company for six years before a personal tragedy changed his career track.

“My mother was wrongfully indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to federal prison,” he said. “I couldn’t change what happened to her, but the experience motivated me to pursue a law degree to help prevent such tragedies happening to others.”  

Ali earned his law degree in 1998 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. He has practiced law for more than 22 years. His practice areas include criminal defense, personal injury and immigration.  

“I remain connected to Southeast today,” he said. “I am a proud supporter of Redhawk athletics, and I am committed to making sure student-athletes are successful academically and athletically. I can’t describe the feeling I get from coming back to help out. It’s so important for these kids to see people like me and hear they can do it.” 

Ali was honored at the University’s annual Copper Dome Society and Merit Award Dinner on October 28 during Homecoming weekend. The Copper Dome Society recognizes donors to the University of $250 or more annually. It is their continued support that enables students to receive scholarships, the best in classroom technology and the experiences outside the classroom that are so important in today's society.