Scholar of the Week: Merjem Mededovic

Technews Writer
Sun Mar 18, 2018

1) We all have our own opinions of good characteristics of a leader, but how would you personally define a leader?

A leader must be able to maintain both short and long-term goals, whether they concern today, tomorrow, a week from now, or even further ahead. A leader must also balance this with being aware and supportive of the goals of the team or organization. In addition to managing one’s immediate goals, a leader needs to communicate these goals, ideas, and visions to other people.


2) What is the best piece of advice that you would give a future or incoming leader?

First and foremost, you must always be honest and truthful to yourself, with a clearly defined vision of what you want to be or do. However, this does not discredit your journey of self-discovery leading up to a final goal. In these exploratory times, there will be instances when you feel lost and don’t know where to go; this is often where you will begin to find what you really want to do. It’s okay to have doubts as you go through life. However, be sure to remain confident and believe in yourself when you find your path or vision, and don’t hesitate to fully commit to it. Finally, try to avoid unnecessarily comparing yourself negatively to ideas or conceptions others may have lain down; trust in your own ability and judgment.


3) What would you say is an event or time in your life that you feel really turned you into a leader?

Throughout my life, I have often found myself in situations where I didn’t really have a choice in a matter or I only had one option to choose from, such as deciding which high school to attend or which internship to work at. However, near the end of high school, I faced one of the most significant decisions in my life: whether to stay in my native country of Bosnia for university or to go overseas to the United States. It was truly a difficult decision to deliberate. I received a lot of social pushback from the people I knew, who discouraged me from leaving and criticized me for the burden they thought I was placing on my family. However, this was positively contrasted by the great support I received from others who realized what an amazing opportunity I had for my higher education. Throughout this decision, I was able to define my personal opinions and decisions, as well as undertake the responsibility of any consequence resulting from the choices I made. I learned to break down different perceived boundaries while taking full ownership and authority over where I wanted my life to go. Going through such a big life change without major failure gave me the confidence to trust in my reasoning and gut feelings, which translates well into many other aspects of my life.


4) What organizations or roles do you have on campus in which you are a leader?

Although I focused on social and student life organizations earlier in my Illinois Tech career, I have since transitioned towards more professional organizations like the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) as I look ahead and prepare for my future after Illinois Tech.

One of my current active roles on campus is presiding as the corresponding secretary for Illinois Tech’s Tau Beta Pi (TBP) chapter, the national engineering honors society. In this role, I maintain the connection between Illinois Tech’s TBP chapter and the organizations’ national headquarters. Additionally, I assist with different aspects of chapter communication, fundraising, logistics, and alumni outreach.

In addition to Leadership Academy Seminars and Sophomore Leadership Retreats, I act as a mentor as part of the Academy’s collaboration with Von Steuben High School. Through this program, I work with eleventh grade high school scholars, helping them find their path towards the next step in their lives. I am also a member of the Academy team participating in the upcoming Collegiate Leadership Competition in April. I appreciate how these additional activities have given me the opportunity to practice the skills we learn in the Academy.

Finally, after working as a resident advisor (RA) for six semesters and guiding groups of several diverse communities, one of my most cherished memories has been my continuing friendship with two residents from China. They reached out to me when they wanted to practice their English, and throughout two semesters, we met and practiced language and writing while learning about each others' cultures. One of the most rewarding aspects of being an RA has been building these personal connections and having the opportunity to make a positive impact on my peers’ lives.


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?

For my senior design project, my team worked with Medline to develop a female external catheter for urine collection. Currently, designs can be invasive or uncomfortable for patients to use. Our preliminary design received critique from Medline, whose review discussed issues with safety and comfort of the catheter. Initially, my team and I became very discouraged, and we feared we would have to scrap the progress we had made and return to square one. However, after reviewing the critiques and our design for a full day, I realized our product still had inherent merits to its external design, and that the criticisms had perhaps made assumptions that might not be true. To show that the criticisms were incorrect, I decided to wear our device for 11 hours. By doing this, I was able to prove that the critiques of our design were in fact incorrect. Throughout this setback, I persevered despite the discouraging news, and I kept pushing through. Although I am always open to acknowledging and working on concerns, focusing on the positives and providing motivation to my team allowed us to work through these challenges.


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 given me better self awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses. It has allowed me to avoid defining myself solely based on what others say and do, and I have been able to believe in my ability to do better and do more. Through the support of our Academy faculty, Rodney, Meghan, and George, as well as my fellow Scholars and Academy alumni, I realized that I truly can do more, reach higher, and commit to and go through with all my goals.

Above any other position or commendation on campus, I am most proud to be a Leadership Academy Scholar. The Academy has supported me through some of my most difficult decisions, helped me shape my future, and given me strong role models in our Academy faculty. Finally, the impact of the Academy and seeing what a group needs to do to function well has helped me in my other involvements, allowing me to understand what makes a team great.

7) What career objectives do you have once you graduate from Illinois Tech?

Although I am in the process of finalizing everything, I will be attending the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor for my PhD. After the six years it will likely take to finish my PhD, I would like to first work in the industry, and possibly work towards an MBA later. I hope to build off this foundation of working in a lab environment and eventually move into leadership and administrative roles where I can contribute towards the future of biomedical research. I greatly aspire to be a leader who has a strong “boots on the ground” perspective and sufficient background knowledge in the field to support me in the decisions I make and ensure I have can have a nuanced and balanced perspective.


8) Where is a place that you have always wanted to travel to but have never had the opportunity to do so?

Latin America! I am amazed by the similarities and differences between all the cultures there. Among the different locations one can visit, there is incredible variety, from tropical beaches to skiing and even penguins. Currently, I am working on my Spanish, and I hope to one day fully immerse myself in the culture of Latin America and truly experience all of its rich facets.


9) What is one of your fondest memories from your four+ years at college?

During my freshman year, I lived in McCormick Student Village, and my friend group would often meet in the evenings to work and study calculus together. What began as study sessions would often evolve into hanging out, talking, and laughing until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. in the morning. Although this may seem just like any other get together with friends, I truly cherish these times spent just talking with friends. We understood and supported each other no matter what we were going through, which I really needed my first few semesters at Illinois Tech.


10) Your friend has committed a serious but nonviolent crime. Would you rather help them cover it up and carry a guilty conscience, or would you follow the law and let them serve a significant amount of time in prison and lose them as a friend?

This is very situational for me. Without more context, I would probably do this: Assuming I know this friend will learn from their mistake, fully reflect upon their misdeeds, and genuinely try to move past this and be a better person, I would probably help cover them. However, if I know they aren’t going to learn from it, or aren’t willing to change, I would go ahead and let them serve their time, even if it meant sacrificing our friendship.


Appears in
2018 - Spring - Issue 9