Hamze is a senior computer engineering student who is set to graduate in May. He has been in the Leadership Academy since his junior year. After college, he is planning on remaining in Chicago and entering the workforce for several years before pursuing an MBA (Master of Business Administration).
1. We all have our own opinions of good characteristics of a leader, but how would you personally define a leader?
I believe that two of the best traits a leader can have are adaptability and influence. There are many different types of leadership styles, and being able to switch between them based on the situation is very important for an effective leader. If a leader is unable to take on different styles, they are limited and will face the risk of failing. Being able to achieve this flexibility is very important in terms of being adaptable. I believe influence is also essential because it is a fundamental characteristic of a leader, especially when a leader has a specific mission and vision. If a leader is not influential, they cannot effectively convey to people what it is they are trying to achieve— their mission. Finally, I would also like to note that when leading, I like to traverse the road less traveled. By saying this, I mean that I tend to stay away from cliché-type answers and like to be unique in my leadership.
2. What is the best piece of advice that you would give a younger student?
The first piece of advice that comes to my mind for a younger student is to try experiencing failure. More specifically, fail early and fail small. Life is full of ups and downs. You are bound to fail at some point, and it is definitely better to experience this failure at an earlier time, when there is less at stake. When one fails early, you can still be protected by your school or parents, which is much better than not being able to rely on any support if you were to fail later in life. Rebounding from failure can be difficult, but it is all a matter of perspective. Seeing failure as something negative will inevitably hurt you, but seeing failure as an opportunity to learn is where personal growth occurs.
3. What would you say is an event or time in your life that you feel really turned you into a leader?
My catalyst for becoming a leader is unfortunately the war that has affected my home nation of Syria. This, along with the decision to study abroad here in the U.S., were two events/decisions that were a turning point in my leadership. The war still impacts my family back home, and because of this, I am driven by a desire to help put them in a better position in life. I came here to make something of myself so that I can support them in ways I would not have been able to if I had not taken this path. It makes me think quite a lot. While life has been unfair in some ways, I have still been granted the opportunity to make a change in not only my life, but in the lives of my family and community. This mindset allows me to persevere and push for new heights in leadership and other aspects of life.
4. What organizations or roles do you have on campus in which you are a leader?
I have been involved in quite a few organizations and leadership roles during my time at Illinois Tech. Presently, I am in my fourth year as a resident advisor (RA) and member of the Leadership Academy. Within the RA role, among many things, I am expected to be flexible, prepared to respond to any situation at any given time, and able to manage conflict, which are important skills for a leader to have. In addition to this, I have been involved in a bevy of other roles, such as a SOAR (Student Orientation Advising and Registration) Leader, peer mentor, and instructor for The Global Leaders Program. I was also involved with the Student Government Association (SGA), where I started as a volunteer before becoming a senator, vice president of student life, and eventually president. This was perhaps the most impactful role I have played, as well as the single most leadership-intensive position I have ever been in. I believe being the president of SGA is a very difficult job that, in a sense, can be considered as challenging as holding the position of CEO within a company. All the members of the organization are students who volunteer their personal time, which leads to many different viewpoints and priorities. My goal was to keep them motivated for a full year, through non-traditional and non-financial means. I of course still had to be a student myself, which meant juggling schoolwork with this overwhelming responsibility, Leadership Academy, and RA duties. Being able to run things in a way that catered to every member was very important if the organization was going to be productive.
5. Some of the most defining moments for leaders are during times of difficulty or struggle. Has there been a time in which you were met with a serious problem and ended up becoming a better leader because of it?
There have been many moments of difficulty and struggle in every leadership position I have undertaken. These challenges come up often, but it is in these moments of challenge where you experience growth. Moreover, I would say I’m thankful that I have had these challenges because I would lack the motivation to get out of my comfort zone if life were an easy ride. In fact, during times where I feel like there is not enough of a challenge, I seek them out. Examples of these challenges are plentiful, but some of the biggest ones have been having to leave my home and come to the U.S. from across the world, assimilating and establishing myself in a new culture, and adapting and transitioning from being someone dependent on others to someone independent and reliable. At the end of the day, I am by no means perfect. Like everyone, I make mistakes, but I focus on learning from these mistakes and seeking constructive feedback. Constantly working on becoming a better version of myself while remaining thankful and humble is one motto I have in life.
6. In what ways has Leadership Academy specifically helped you become a more prominent and confident leader? What has the Academy meant to you?
Leadership Academy has provided me with constant exposure to the science of leadership through its series of seminars and workshops. It has gotten me in a position where I can understand many types of leadership and how to use each of them in different situations. Also, I have been provided with a lot of leadership tools and knowledge through the Academy. Without this substance to one’s leadership, it is virtually impossible to be that versatile of a leader. This versatility plays in with the adaptability I mentioned earlier. As a group, the Academy has presented us all with the opportunity to challenge ourselves, learn something new, and to network with other leaders. As a result of all this, Leadership Academy has helped make leadership somewhat of a “second-nature” quality to me. I almost take being able to communicate effectively, work well in teams, and have the confidence to lead for granted. These skills have been taught to me over the years and have now become the norm. I often get told by Academy alumni that in other organizations and companies, these qualities may not be typical among everyone. Therefore, being able to have these skills is really invaluable at this stage in my life.
7. What career objectives do you have once you graduate from Illinois Tech?
Generally, I want to continue pushing myself until I find my limit or calling in life. I said earlier that I strive to get out of my comfort zone and like to seek challenges so that I can constantly grow and keep things interesting. That is the way I look at my career after I graduate. Only time will tell whether I end up as a family father or a company CEO. The current plan is to work for a few years and then pursue an MBA, but what plan goes unchanged?
8. Where is a place you have always wanted to travel to but have never had the opportunity to?
Have you heard of a place called the world? I have an innate desire to travel all over the place and see as much of the globe as I possibly can.
9. What is one of your fondest memories from your four years at college?
One memory that sticks out from the rest is the time in which I delivered my acceptance speech as president of SGA. In a sense, this can be what I consider to be the magnum opus of my higher education career. During this moment, I felt a rush of emotions that came from me having achieved my biggest goal in university, along with the realization of all the responsibilities that I was about to undertake. It was a very special moment.
10. If you had the choice of going the route you have gone versus being born into an easier situation somewhere else and then working from that point, which one would you choose and why?
The answer to this is not that simple or clear cut. The easier choice out of the two is to say that I would prefer an easier life. However, I wouldn’t wish for a life without challenges because, again, you grow the most during difficult times. My life so far has shaped who I am, and who knows how I would be if it started somewhere else.