Loyola University Maryland Student Balances Data Science With Community Engagement

By Seemab Kazmi

The Middle Eastern and South Asian Student Alliance (MESA) and African, Latinx, Asian, Native American (ALANA) Services at Loyola University Maryland

I love that MESA allows me to bring together a community that can be easily overlooked on a predominantly white college campus, which is the essence of what ALANA tries to do, in general. We are giving students a safe space on campus. ALANA has allotted the Center for Intercultural Engagement as a physical base for students and organizations to meet and mingle. For a campus like Loyola where seeing someone who looks like you is not always common within the classroom, having a social space where you can find peers with a similar background and heritage is a godsend.

MESA was in-person for the majority of our first year on campus, but in Spring 2020 (our second semester since starting the club), we had to shift to online. That first semester, we did a lot of cultural programs and even brought other university organizations to our campus. My favorite activity was a speaker event we did with Dr. Isacar Bolanos of the history department called “The Influence of the Ottoman Empire Today”. It was intriguing to take a closer look at Ottoman history, especially because I was in his Making of the Modern World class at the time. A more social (and less academic) event was International Fest, which was a collaborative effort with other cultural clubs and many other student-run organizations. We got to invite Towson University’s Chalak Dance Team to perform and represent South Asia. Being able to collaborate with peers from both on and off campus was so fulfilling and I miss those moments of unity most during these remote semesters.

Middle Eastern and South Asian Student Alliance (MESA) table at the ALANA Block Party at Loyola University Maryland.

Experiences as a Pakistani-American

My experience as a Pakistani-American at Loyola was very polarizing the first year, but through my involvement with ALANA, Arabyola and other organizations, I feel that I have found (or made) a place for myself. I am originally from Baltimore and am a commuter student. Beyond being one of the few hijabi Muslims on campus, I also had to deal with the frustrations of being a commuter on a campus where most students lived on-campus and came from different states. Though this seems like a small bump, my understanding of college was completely different from my peers because I was living at home. I had to shift from being surrounded mostly by white people who had little to no context of my culture to my home, where my family does not necessarily understand what it means to constantly be surrounded by white people. Constantly changing environments required some level of cultural competency.

I had to remind myself that my white peers sometimes needed more context on my perspective, either because they did not know what it means to be a Pakistani-American Shia Muslim or because they simply did not know what it is like to be a commuter student. My time was often divided between home, school, and the mosque. But as I settled in, I realized that often times the context I felt I needed to provide my peers with was not needed. I became comfortable with myself, my identity and stopped feeling the need to justify it to all to the people around me, whether at school or home. Since then, I find that I have been comfortable and have found my niche well.

International Festival

Rewarding Aspects of University Life

Connecting with so many people in ways that fulfills different parts of my identity has been most rewarding for me. During my sophomore year, I became a Social Justice Intern at the university’s Campus Ministry. This was simultaneous with MESA being started, so that fall semester, I was a busy bee. But creating projects and meeting with like-minded people was so fulfilling. Until then, I was president of the Women in Tech club and remained in a small niche of tech majors. After getting more involved, I felt like I had found that part of Loyola that was for me and it’s all thanks to these organizations for pushing me in that direction.

Fall Activities Fair

Majoring in Data Science

I am a data science major in my junior year. Though it feels daunting, I have my horizons open to a lot. After college, I want to work either as a data or business analyst to get a better understanding of the field. In the long run, I would love to have my own non-profit that works to provide young girls in developing parts of Pakistan with equal educational opportunities.

In the long run, I would love to have my own non-profit that works to provide young girls in developing parts of Pakistan with equal educational opportunities.

I was originally a computer science (CS) major but fall semester of my sophomore year I switched to data science. I originally got into CS because of my high school’s magnet program, so by the time I was in my sophomore year of college, I had been studying CS for about six years. Data science seemed like a new beginning with new horizons, so I decided to move forward with that instead. Data science is similar in many ways, but instead of creating algorithms from scratch, we focus more on using those algorithms to find patterns within data. Simply put, it’s mathematical storytelling. I am also a writing minor. I have always enjoyed writing, so I decided to enroll in more classes at the recommendation of my Intro to Writing professor (shoutout to Dr. Murray). I have enjoyed it a lot so far.

Why Connect With Others?

Life is all about connection. Whether we choose to admit it or not, other people directly impact the life we live. We can either choose to remain ignorant to those external factors or find the root of those connections. I find that connecting with others, understanding their background, makes me feel more connected to the rest of the world. Higher education is all about pursuing the more—the magis as my Latin-speaking Ignatian friends would say—and that includes people as well. Paying all this money to only learn about clustering and regression analysis when there are magnificent stories to be shared by peers would be a loss on my part. People are worth getting to know. Knowing others, being less ignorant, makes us better people.

Life is all about connection. Whether we choose to admit it or not, other people directly impact the life we live.

Being open and confident is the key to everything. My differences were my weakness for the longest time and that held me back a lot. I try to encourage Women in Tech and MESA members to just try. College and life in general is all about trial and error. Nothing is permanent if you are willing to put in the effort to make a change. When applying for a job or an internship, it is important to remind yourself that you have nothing to lose. Overthinking and planning can be your worst enemy, so just take it easy and do your best. If you find that your confidence is in a developmental stage, fake ‘til you make it. As college students, we all know how far pure adrenaline and blind faith can take us. So, take advantage of those moments and do something you otherwise lack the confidence (or logic) to do. Most importantly, remember to know your worth. Find employers, peers and mentors who value you as a person and your story. Reminding yourself of your strengths, being grateful and caring for your whole self goes a long way.

About the Author

Seemab Kazmi

Seemab Kazmi is President of the Middle Eastern and South Asian Student Alliance (MESA) and a third-year student at Loyola University Maryland studying Data Science with an interest in data visualization, statistical analysis, and machine learning. Seemab is seeking internships and research opportunities to apply her knowledge on data analysis, programming, and statistics to grow her experience with machine learning and business analytics. She is currently a Social Justice Intern at Loyola University Maryland where she works with Campus Ministry to create opportunities for the Loyola community to engage in justice education, prayer, reflection, advocacy, and social action. Follow her on Instagram @seemabster or MESA @loyolamesa.

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