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Taking the lead at the Student Leadership Conference

Saraby Sara Asghar

My name is Sara and I work for Student Engagement and Equity in Student Life as the Student Engagement Program Assistant. Sounds like a fairly heavy title, but what I’m really up to behind the scenes is tallying up scores for the Ambassador program, answering emails from students, or rummaging through our storage closet to help prep for events. Most recently, one of these events that I helped support was the Student Leadership Conference that took place in February.  

This conference is an annual event that focuses on the exploration of topics related to leadership and fosters an environment where participants are open to share their experiences and ideas, as well as learn about how it applies to us as individuals and as a community. The event was both staff and student-run and new this year, students were asked to submit proposals to present at the conference. All week, I had been watching the presenters walk in and out of their scheduled appointments with Yasmin (who if you don’t know, is one of the Student Leadership Coordinators and runs the Ambassador program). Suddenly, the idea crossed my mind: why not me?

Throughout my university career, I have been in and out of various leadership roles through Women in Engineering and the FEAS Engineering Outreach office. Thinking back, it’s those experiences that have shaped me into who I am today and motivated me to submit a proposal to present at the conference, not knowing that I’d be successful in the process.  

Fast forward to the day of the conference, I’d given myself a pep talk in the mirror while getting dressed the morning of, and then another one in front of my mom on the drive to the conference, mostly because I needed to hear it myself. On my way over, I passed by the registration booth and was greeted by tons of faces, both old and new. I was the first presenter and had all my materials in a small basket – ready to set up. As I was configuring my laptop, opening up the online survey I had prepared, I began to let my mind wander to the multiple people I had seen earlier this morning and what they would look like filling the rows of seats in front of me. I started asking myself questions like, should I stand and walk around while I spoke? Should I sit on the chair instead? What if I take too long? Do I even remember how to work the survey? My last minute panic was settling in and as much as I tried to swallow it back down, it was starting to show in my walk and talk. It was now T-10 minutes until the crowd would flood in, and the door swung open. Caught off guard, I peeked over my laptop to see which eager student had come so early.

A kind face looked back at me, she made no hesitation in introducing herself and stepped right up to the podium. I figured I’d rather embarrass myself now than later and asked her for some help in setting up. Both of us were new to the downtown campus, so we weren’t entirely sure how things worked. Funny enough, within the next few minutes we’d pressed enough buttons and moved enough switches to eventually get things started up. Hearing it from her first hand that she’d signed up for my workshop based on a summary and not having previously met me, gave me the little bit of courage I didn’t know I was looking for. While speaking about the concept behind lollipop moments to my audience, I realized that’s exactly what had happened earlier. A few minutes before the presentation, when my confidence was slipping, having a small conversation with a stranger whom I had never met before was what calmed me down.

At the end of the day, we all experience life in different ways, but the one thing I feel that commonly happens is that when we think of leadership we sometimes mistakenly put it on a very high pedestal. In reality, leadership is in the little things all around us. It’s something that I look for in my day to day now, whether it’s through my role as an Ambassador, Women in Engineering or through my school work. Leadership is entirely dependent on how we choose to define it.