Impact Connections: Spotlight on Veteran LIFT Fellow and Team Lead, Naziya Ahmed
By Sandi S. Ruddick
Our Impact Connections blog this month is on veteran Longhorn Impact Fellowship at Texas (LIFT) Fellow and Team Lead, Naziya Ahmed. She is a third-year student at UT-Austin from Plano, Texas studying Management Information Systems, Computer Science, and Spanish. Naziya cultivates a wide variety of interests in her academics and career, including social entrepreneurship and sustainability, technology, healthcare, and linguistics. She has gained valuable experience in backend development, change management, and project management through her work with LIFT and outside companies like Corecentra, Charles Schwab, Goldman Sachs, and The University of North Texas. Before coming to UT, Naziya started her university academic career while still in high school through The Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS) at The University of North Texas, which provided an opportunity to develop her STEM interests. From prodigy to team lead, Naziya continues to grow her own knowledge and skillset while mentoring others around her to do the same.
Sandi: You are an MIS/computer science and Spanish language student at UT with a broad range of interests, including social entrepreneurship and sustainability, technology, healthcare, and linguistics. How do you hope to use your diverse background and interests in the future?
Naziya: During my high school and college years, I really wanted to touch on everything to see what I’m interested in and what really resonates with me. By doing that, I realized that consulting really is just problem solving — which is really why I wanted to do LIFT in the first place — and my post-college plans are to go into a project management role. That requires a varied knowledge of a lot of things from not only technology (because I eventually want to be a Technical PM), but also understanding diverse people’s thoughts and understanding how many people think. This is why I wanted to take Spanish as a certificate, because linguistics really helps you broaden your mind and think about things in different ways. I guess healthcare kind of stemmed from my experience working with our LIFT client from last semester.
Sandi: Congratulations on your appointment as a LIFT team lead for Fall 2021! This is your second project with the program. What attracted you to LIFT originally, and what brought you back?
Naziya: Before I knew about LIFT, I received what was then the SII newsletter and heard about this internship with a company that provides software for companies to track their social impact. When working there, I realized the importance of social impact. Growing up, we learned that for-profit corporations are there to churn out as much money as possible. While completing this internship and doing research and writing articles for it, I realized that there has now been a paradigm shift — companies are equally as interested in helping society and the environment as much as they are helping themselves, which is really important. Through that internship, I looked into more GSLI opportunities that I could get involved in; not only contributing, but also educating myself in this kind of field. Being the leaders of tomorrow, we have to know it, and then it’s more likely that our peers will also get to understand how important social impact is. Looking into it, I learned about LIFT and, even though I wasn’t necessarily interested in consulting at the time, I applied through last year’s cohort. I understood that consulting is nothing more than problem solving and really understanding a company’s requirements and needs and fulfilling that in the best way possible. What better way to do that than have a strong focus in social impact and understanding what would help not only the generations of today, but also the future?
Sandi: What brought you back for a second time?
Naziya: I had such a great time with my first client. This wasn’t just about helping these companies, but really for me to learn more about the inner workings of corporations so that, when I go into my future jobs or internships, I understand the ethics of the company that I’m working for, and I make sure to perpetuate that idea within the companies and make sure that whatever work I’m doing is undoubtedly aligned with my morals. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to craft and solidify those morals through LIFT and the GSLI.
Sandi: What activities did you participate in as part of LIFT?
Naziya: I really enjoyed the workshops. I remember that we talked about a scenario of a forest and how releasing these predators into the forest actually helped it. It was really interesting to see how fragile the environment and how little understanding humans have of our world. In that conversation, I realized that there’s so much for us to learn and, if we don’t start doing something to help the environment now, it’ll be too late. Aside from that, the part I remember and found the most interesting was the final project/presentation that we had for LIFT — I really enjoyed that. Our clients were questioning us at the end, and they asked such an interesting question that we hadn’t thought of during the project. I really enjoyed that conversation that we had with the clients, along with the workshops and really just getting to talk to everyone. In LIFT, with our diverse groups, it was really interesting meeting peers who were not necessarily in my major or at the stage of education that I was in but were people who had a vested interest in the same kinds of things that I did.
Sandi: How did LIFT shape your career aspirations and help you both in the classroom and in your professional world?
Naziya: LIFT showed me that, no matter what stage I am in life, I can always contribute. Not only to a small academic organization or a school club like I had been up to this point, but also to large companies. Everyone’s looking for brand-new perspectives, and I learned that if I do have an idea or a perspective on something to not silence it, to make sure that it’s heard in whatever way possible. I think that’s especially important, not only for me, but also people of my generation. A lot of Gen Z, they don’t really believe that what they have to say is important; but as we’ve seen with recent trends, it’s important to speak out. LIFT really impacted my understanding of the world, and as for career, it has really showed me what is important for me to pursue: a career in a company that really aligns with the social impact way of life and that allows me to really give back to society more than I take. I’ll definitely be looking for that as I progress in my career.
Sandi: During your last LIFT project, you were a team member but also stepped up to help in a leadership role. Going in as the team lead, how do you think that will impact the way you approach the project as you’re guiding the other team members?
Naziya: Last semester, I didn’t really expect to step up like that. We had those winter storms, so I definitely understand what happened (with the team). I didn’t expect the kind of work that we did was the kind of work we’d be doing — I thought we’d have a couple of deliverables, but really I learned so much more than just doing an assignment. I guess that being a team lead this time around will mean the direct increase of responsibility with the tangibles. I’ll be more of a driver than someone who takes a backseat this time, having to make those decisions and scheduling meetings, understanding what deliverables need to be put in the front seat, what needs to be focused on, etc. Even being a team leader, I don’t see myself as the sole person who’s leading everyone — it’s really a team effort. I’m just there to facilitate what’s happening and make sure that everything is getting done. At the end, all of our goals are the same — to get this project done with the highest caliber of work possible.
Sandi: Would you mind giving us insights into the LIFT project you were involved with last semester?
Naziya: Their mission really resonated with me; providing sonography care and ultrasound services to expecting mothers was a great mission to be a part of. I used to think about social impact as a new hot topic in companies that have a strong impact on the environment; but working with through LIFT, I realized that every single company, no matter what they offer and no matter what industry they’re in, has the capability to provide more value to the world than just the profits they gain. It was interesting to see how a company in the healthcare industry really understands the idea of social impact well and practices it within its own disciplines.
Sandi: Can you tell us about any other GSLI events/program you have been a part of?
Naziya: My first internship came to me through the SII newsletter, so I have been connected to GSLI since my freshman year. I signed up on a whim for the newsletter, then I got all of these great opportunities; it just really blows my mind how one small decision has impacted my entire college and post-college, post-graduate career — it’s really amazing! I have gotten more involved in my last year: I’ve been to a lot of impact chats and heard a lot of people speak, including Dr. Kothare — that was awesome!
Sandi: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Naziya: Speaking to the general UT population, I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying my time in LIFT. I think it’s really important to understand how valuable doing a program outside your comfort zone like LIFT is, no matter your major, no matter what discipline you’re in or degree that you’re pursuing. LIFT really helps you tie that together and helps you understand that you, as an individual, have a way to make an impact in the world. Even though you are one person, LIFT gives you the opportunity to work with really amazing corporations and make an impact in the way that you personally can; it really helps you understand how different disciplines work and how they all tie in together to eventually just make the world a better place, not only for you, but for the future generations that will come after us, as well.