Leadership, like many other qualities, means different things to different people. With that in mind, I set out to find the next generation of leaders in the Asian Pacific American community, and get their thoughts on leadership. This is the third in a series of posts on rising APA leaders by Nyana Quashie.
Recently I had the chance to talk to Raaheela Ahmed, a passionate education advocate about her latest pursuits. Raaheela, the daughter of immigrants from India and Pakistan is a great embodiment of what it means to be a servant leader. With the support of family and friends, she has been able to rise to the top. She recently finished a yearlong term as Student Regent of the University System of Maryland, Board of Regents, the organization overseeing the twelve public universities and two regional centers for the whole state. As Student Regent, Raaheela was able to pursue her passion for education, serving as a voice for her peers at universities all over Maryland. How did Raaheela get to where she is today?
The pivotal moment in Raaheela’s life that spurred her into action occurred the summer before her junior year in high school. That summer while on the way to a mall with relatives, she got into a car accident. While her family was unhurt, the driver in the other car didn’t fare as well. Due to her car flipping over a few times, the woman in the other car was unconscious. Raaheela, concerned for the other passenger’s wellbeing, stayed with the woman until after she was able to get in contact with the family, and get medical help. Thinking about how easily it could have been her in the woman’s situation, Raaheela realized that her life was a gift and that she could do so much more to help others.
From then on, Raaheela decided to take a more active leadership role in her high school. She cultivated her leadership ability during her junior year, and by senior year, she was President of three different student organizations including two service clubs, and the National Honor Society. By the time Raaheela started at the University of Maryland, she was an experienced leader. However, she had far bigger dreams than just being a leader in a student organization on campus. She decided to pursue leadership opportunities in her county.
In 2012, she ran for a seat on the Board of Education in Prince George’s County, a position that would give her oversight on how the County’s public school system was run. After a long year of campaigning, Raaheela came close to winning the Board seat. Even though the incumbent won the race, Raaheela had given her opponent a run for her money. She had received 47% of the votes, while the incumbent, who represented the district for 5 years, received 52% of the votes. Undeterred by the loss, Raaheela decided to pursue a similar opportunity that came across her way. Upon learning about the Student Regent position, she realized that many of the experiences from the previous race prepared her for the role. Over the course of a few months, Raaheela was selected by her University as a candidate for the position. This selection was followed by an intense round of interviews, which resulted in her final appointment by Maryland’s then Governor (now Presidential candidate) Martin O’Malley.
Being Student Regent was her toughest role yet. As the sole student member on the Board, Raaheela served as an advocate for over 150,000 students. Through her position, she was able to provide a student perspective on issues. Sometimes, that student perspective didn’t line up with the views of the rest of the Board. One particular challenge during her term involved a proposal for differential pricing in tuition at her University. It would make students in Business, Engineering and Computer Science majors pay more for tuition than students in other majors. With the short notice she was given, Raaheela did her best to gather student thoughts on the issue before it was voted on. The resultant report that she compiled found that many students did not favor differential pricing. She did her best to come up with recommendations and amendments to the proposal that the Board could implement. Even though in the end none of her recommendations were implemented, Raaheela made the best of the situation. Due to that experience, she learned a valuable lesson about leadership. Sometimes even with hard work, her efforts may not be realized. But that does not deter her from future efforts because just as important as creating change, is taking the first action to begin the process.
In all the positions Raaheela has pursued, she based her understanding of leadership on serving others. Even in big “L” leadership positions such as Student Regent, she found a way to practice her little “l” style of leadership by forging individual connections with the people she served. She advises aspiring leaders to focus on developing humility and gratefulness. Doing those things has allowed her to stay in the path of light. People do notice her brightness and positivity, and it means a lot to her that people believe in her.
Raaheela wouldn’t be the leader she is today without the support of family, and friends. Being as busy as she is, Raaheela makes sure to carve out time to spend with them. It’s an important part of making sure that she takes the time to care for herself, especially when her main roles involve caring for others. They help to keep her grounded, and serve as a source of advice in times of difficulty. She is also a big believer in writing and praying. Writing allows her to not only analyze the problems she’s come across, but also to come up with visions of what she wants to see done in the future. Praying allows her to stay connected to her faith, and gives her the power to not only overcome difficulties she may face, but to also avoid making mistakes she’s made in the past.
So how does Raaheela envision her future? As she is passionate about education, especially K-12, her hope is to become a Superintendent. In the meantime, she’ll be taking steps towards achieving that goal. Even though she’ll work full time as a consultant, Raaheela plans to spend the next year or so volunteering with the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA). She’ll get to work one on one with a foster youth, advocating for them in the court. It’s all part of her efforts to continue to empower youth and make an impact on her community.
Raaheela Ahmed is an Associate in the Global Public Sector at Grant Thornton. She recently received a B.S., in Finance and a B.A. in Economics from the University of Maryland, College Park. Last year she served as Student Regent for the University System of Maryland, Board of Regents. Raaheela has a passion for education and public service. In addition to founding chapters of Moneythink and LeaderShape at the University of Maryland, she also served as a leader on the Peer Leadership Council, and an Alternative Breaks trip. While at the University of Maryland, she has received numerous awards for community service and leadership. She hopes to one day become a superintendent of a K-12 system.
Read the previous APA Rising Leaders Post here!
Nyana Quashie is a CAPAL volunteer, blogging on rising leaders in the APA community, and assisting with the Washington Leadership Program. She recently graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in Geographical Sciences. While there she also pursued minors in Global Poverty, and Spanish. She is committed to engaging communities and creating social change both in the U.S. and abroad. In 2013, she consulted with local businesses in Nicaragua as an intern with the Social Entrepreneur Corps. She also recently completed a fellowship at the grassroots advocacy organization RESULTS, working to end poverty around the world.