Arab Student Organization President: “COVID Has Reset Our Perceptions of What We Can Do”

The Arab Student Organization’s Story

The Arab Student Organization is a long-standing organization designed to create community, an inclusive space for Arab students on campus and people interested in Arab culture. We strive to create inclusivity and equity in involving new members and we try to provide a positive environment for people to communicate with one another and learn more about one another and about their culture; about their history.

Right now, we’re trying to organize general meetings to get members engaged virtually which is difficult. In-person, it was a lot more common to see more people, even from non-Arab culture backgrounds, joining the events, just taking time to introduce each other to different perspectives and different angles of views of life. It was really good but now we’re just trying to get that energy back into the community and try to inspire each other to be a bit more inclusive and a bit more open-minded. That’s basically the intention of ASO, which is to increase inclusivity and equity in the culture, in the mindset of the people in the community.

My Experience as a Leader of ASO and a Student at Carnegie Mellon University

As a leader, I don’t have much experience. I’ve just taken on the role recently, at the beginning of the year in the Fall semester. I’ve been in charge as President for only a few months now and it hasn’t been easy with the transition to COVID. Virtual educational experiences have been a bit tough for me – I think it’s been tough for everybody. CMU has been a great environment to explore my interests and explore my creativity and my potential. There’s a ton of clubs and events all the time and I think that’s the case with any university. There’s opportunities to explore yourself and explore your interests as much as you can; as long as you take the time to balance your studies with your personal goals. There’s always time to find opportunities for yourself, and it’s a great environment!

As President of ASO, it’s been a little bit challenging to get increased engagement virtually because the connection is not there initially. Actually, today was our first general body meeting of the semester, and honestly, of the school year. We haven’t really had any general body meetings because of the lack of engagement virtually. It’s been challenging to overcome but hopefully we’re going to get a good turnout today and hopefully we can get a lot of engagement going forward.

We’re trying to find ways to engage, to include movie nights, TV shows, things like that, but they don’t really ‘stick’ because you have to have that initial contact, and usually, that in-person energy is very different than remote energy. It’s trying to recreate that virtually that isn’t easy but we’re doing the best we can.

Taking What’s Happened with COVID-19 in Stride as I Pursue My Interests

I think that mental health at a global scale is incredibly important and there are technologies and policy solutions that are definitely in existence in the modern day, like 2021, that once they begin to introduce themselves, can create a lot of positive community and in the environment that we live in. Not just like the individual communities of college campuses but on a broader scale, like introducing positive mental health advocacy policies at the healthcare level, at the institutional level with insurance policies and things of that nature.

I’m very passionate about global health at a very basic level, like water access, sanitation access, basic things that are very critical to the well-being of societies. I think that there is so much anyone can do to improve the situation of many people around the world, and there are tons of charities you can volunteer at or donate to, especially charity: water is one great organization that does really great work in providing those basic needs. As a society, we have to begin to consider the bigger picture in the microcosm of our individual lives and try to incorporate those positive motivations and intentions in our daily lives. Thinking about “How can my actions and my intentions today begin to benefit the community around me?” To begin to empower the people around me, to begin creating positive change in the long-term.

As a society, we have to begin to consider the bigger picture in the microcosm of our individual lives and try to incorporate those positive motivations and intentions in our daily lives.

It’s tricky because you’re thinking about, “How do you empower yourself?” when you don’t really have those resources or that network or those connections, but everyone has that guidance within them to find the opportunities that they would benefit from and begin to benefit other people through. Even learning skills, just getting more aware of these bigger problems; reading articles, watching documentaries, raising awareness, can give you that perspective and shift your attention to different opportunities that you haven’t thought about before.

There is so much we can do and I think that COVID has really reset our perceptions of what we can do. It’s been an amazing opportunity to become more open-minded about what is impossible in 2021. A lot of people are still ‘thinking in 2020,’ and that’s old news, you know? We have to be more present and more modern. There’s tons of technologies, policies and innovations everyday at the social/business sector, the entrepreneurship sector, being done everywhere, all over the world. It’s creating positive change and you just have to learn about it and educate yourself, and from that education, you can begin to find insight to develop your own opportunities and contribution. There’s tons you can do. I’m very optimistic about the state of the world in the future, as long as people aren’t full of hate. There is so much hate in the world – and evil – but there’s a lot of good in the world too. I am optimistic.

Pursuing an Education in the Medical Sciences

My mental health has been subject to a lot of difficulties in my past and so I’ve got to pass it on, all the benefits, privileges, rewards, and gifts – the compassion I’ve received. I want to pass it on and given that I’m so much smarter and wiser and capable than before, because of the community surrounding me, I want to be able to contribute to my community in that similar way and try to begin to heal people. I’m very interested in pursuing medical school or maybe clinical psychology or something of that nature, to begin the process of understanding people and their needs in a deeper way so that I can begin to pass on the gift of self-awareness. The knowledge of self that is so, so important to develop at all costs. Sacrificing time, energy, and happiness and whatever for the more real opportunity to begin to know yourself in a deeper way. That’s the key, that’s what you need so you can know what you’re doing.

For me, I need to know what I’m doing. I tried really hard to know myself and to see myself and things that I’m doing, and recognize and identify, “this is who I am, and this is what I want to do.” I’m not entirely sure what I want to do when I graduate but I do have a position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and that’s a really great opportunity. I’m going to take the time to develop that opportunity into something that can begin to be a resource for other people and to begin to be a light for other people. I want to take the time to learn about myself and who I am, and from that, I can begin to contribute even further to medicine and to mental health and to the needs of other people and create a positive impact.

Talking about intention is always a little bit confusing. College students don’t always know what they want unless they have some sort of life experience that tells them, “this is who you want to be.” College is a great opportunity to find those life experiences and you can be really lucky to find people that can help you really shape who you are. COVID is a great opportunity to connect with people virtually. It’s a blessing and a curse – everything is a positive and negative. You have to put it in perspective.

Even if it’s not what you think you want or what you think you deserve, everything is perfect timing. You can’t get everything exactly as it comes or what you need at the time. When one door closes, another door opens, or another window opens. It’s not ever limiting you to accept opportunities that might not be perfect fits, so you want to figure out what that ‘fit’ is, and know yourself through as many different angles as possible, so you can know who you are in a way that lets you contribute as much as possible to society and to yourself through gaining that knowledge of self that is so critical and so valuable. There’s a lot to deconstruct from that, but knowledge of self is something that everyone wants to achieve. Once you have it, you can then act on your opportunities without limits. It’s difficult to talk about but for example, if you know you want to be a doctor, you’ll have that motivation, that inspiration, that insight, and that creativity and that drive to achieve that goal.

You can’t get everything exactly as it comes or what you need at the time. When one door closes, another door opens, or another window opens.

If you know you want to become a healthcare physician, you can achieve that goal. If you know you want to be an entrepreneur or a CEO, you have great idea, you can withstand the hurt to your motivation and the negative feedback. Over time, you can achieve that goal. Without knowing who you are, without knowing what you want to do – the only way you can know who you are and what you want to do is through difficulty and through opportunities that may not feel like opportunities. They may feel like curses. But they are really blessings in disguise! These hardships that everyone goes through and everyone lives through are really just opportunities for you to develop who you really are. No one knows who you really are until you do, it’s like a personal insight that comes all at once, and it feels really crazy. I’m still in pursuit of knowledge of self and this is what I aspire to achieve.

With the NIH, I’m going to be hopeful that I can develop the skillset, tools, resources and network necessary to take that next step in my career. All you can ever ask for is the next step.

Sometimes you are just in a situation that’s not in your control and even if it feels like there is nothing you can do, there’s always the perspective that you bring into the situation that’s always in your control, the perspective and the mindset that you can take a situation and turn it into a positive one. That’s always something you can control.

How Students Can Set Themselves up for Success, Personal Development

To set yourself up to succeed, you have to know why you want to succeed and where you want to go. You want to be able to define success for yourself, and that may look like journaling or writing down just a couple of sentences. “What does success look like for me and what does that feel like for me?” and try to envision that situation so you can recognize that opportunity when it comes. That way, you can focus your job search, your networking process, you can focus much more fully and be more present with the process and you can learn as much as you can. You can do your best interviews, you can apply with confidence; all these things come from knowing what you want and knowing why you want it. Having that clarity is so valuable because it makes you stand out among other candidates.

What I mean is it’s not so simple as just saying, “I know what I want and now I’m going to get it.” You have to act and sacrifice to perform at a high level and achieve those goals. You can’t just be a doctor just because you want to be. You have to take difficult courses, you have to do these difficult things, and it requires some time and energy to expend on those goals. But if you know what you want, it’s going to be much, much easier to get it than if you don’t know what you want. Actually, it’s basically impossible to get what you want unless you know that you want it. The very first step is to have a lot of clarity on what you want to achieve like 5 to 10 years from now. Chart a course towards those goals, starting with the first step of

  • What kind of courses do I need to take?
  • What kind of people do I need to meet?
  • What kind of skills do I need to develop in order to reach those goals?

They don’t have to be, “I want to be CEO of this company,” or “I want to be a thought leader in this field.” They could be simple goals, like “I want to be a positive role model for my community.” Then you can talk about what kind of opportunities will get you there. And there’s tons of opportunities – you don’t have to limit yourself, but you also have to focus yourself and you have to be very focused on your goals. That focus can come from talking to people and getting community support. It can also come from introspection and talking to yourself in a positive, encouraging way. Ultimately, at the end of the day, all you need to do is just do your best. Doing your best everyday lets you know what your best can be and then shooting for it, and then trying break beyond that level. If you don’t know what you are capable of, you aren’t going to achieve anything. You have to know what you are willing to do and you have to know what you’re capable of to begin to really succeed and strive forward. It requires self-awareness, it requires commitment to yourself and honoring yourself in that way because everyone is capable of amazing things.

Doing your best every day lets you know what your best can be and then shooting for it, and then trying break beyond that level.

About the Author: Omar Elmady is a senior in the psychology department at Carnegie Mellon University. He is president of the Arab Student Organization, and in his free time enjoys meditation, yoga, walking, reading, and meeting new people.

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