Aisha Yaqoob finds that she is the happiest when she is doing something for others. That's why she is pursuing her Masters in Public Administration and Policy at UGA. This former legislative intern with the US Congress is going to change the world. Read our #WCW's story:
1. What's your story? What makes you unique?
I don’t know if I have a story just yet, but I’m working on it. So far my life has been a series of twists and turns and I could not be more excited for my current path. I was born and raised in South Florida but moved to Georgia when I was 7. I consider Georgia my home and will always appreciate how it has shaped me.
I’m not one to play the diversity card, but at the end of the day, that is what makes me unique. Always a minority – in more ways than one – I’ve tried to prove myself and step out of that label. I’ve worked hard to earn people’s respect and the successes that have come my way. At the same time, I appreciate the opportunities that come my way because of my race or religion, but try not to let that define me.
2. What motivates you?
There’s this concept in my field of Public Administration called Public Service Motivation, or PSM. I’d never heard of this before but it rings true for me now, more than it has ever. Throughout my life, I’ve found myself enjoying being in service of others. Whether it was volunteering for a nonprofit, or mentoring high school students – I always find myself at the happiest when I am doing something for others. Being on my current career path as a Public Administrator, I hope that my future career does just that; being of service to others. I’m motivated by satisfaction you get of knowing you have helped to accomplish something that will benefit a group of people. I am motivated by knowing that I’ve helped to make someone’s life easier, or perhaps helped them live. I am motivated by thank-you’s, and unspoken words of appreciation.
3. Who is a hero of yours?
There are so many women out there I look up to, but all of the qualities I aspire to can be found in the one and only Leslie Knope. Although a fictional character played by Amy Poehler, Leslie Knope embodies Public Service Motivation. Sure she is idealistic, but she does what she does out of a pure heart and simply to serve others. Leslie is the hardest worker you’ll ever know, the sweetest and most thoughtful of your friends, and has enough motivation to power 100 high-speed jets. I appreciate that she is a strong female role model for women and girls, and that she, even with her flaws, stays true to her mission of public service.
4. What's your future plan? Your goals?
After I finish my master’s degree, I want to try out some different careers in public service. I’ve worked for a while for various nonprofits, in higher education, and most recently, an internship with a member of the United States Congress. Currently, I see myself working in local or state government because I feel that is where I can make the largest impact for different minority communities.
My long-term goal, is to one day run for public office on the local level. I hope to become the first headscarf-wearing Mayor of an American city and perhaps inspire others like me to pursue careers in public service.
5. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Just because there’s an uphill battle, doesn’t mean it’s not worth the climb. There are so many obstacles to achieving your goals; don’t let them keep you from trying as hard as Leslie Knope. If it doesn’t work out, perhaps it was not meant to be. Appreciate the ride as you’re getting there and learn from it.
6. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?
At the moment, I feel very strongly about the importance of voting. Ever since I was old enough to vote, I remember nagging my siblings and parents to come to the polls with me. I feel like many people take this for granted; the ability to cast your vote and help decide who gets elected. As someone who has seen first hand the political systems of different countries, I appreciate the American political system and want to encourage others to take their civic responsibility of voting more seriously.
More specifically, I feel strongly about encouraging minorities and disenfranchised communities to vote. Time and time again I hear complaints from people that the government does not care about them. I’ve learned through my time in public service that unless you are actively participating in your government by voting, advocating for your issues, and talking to your elected representatives, you cannot expect them to know and understand your issues. In the short term, I hope to start an initiative encouraging American Muslims to become active voters and participants in the political process.
7. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?
Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend the summer in Kenya on a volunteer trip. We had raised almost $40,000 from our community and spent that money in improving conditions for two different orphanages, a school for the blind, and a school for children with disabilities. The best part of our trip was being able to spend time with kids who were really excited that we were from America. They all thought we personally knew Obama, and would sing us Rihanna songs. It is an experience in itself traveling to and living in a country so vastly different than your own, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
8. Anything we haven't asked that you'd like to talk about.
I’d like to make a point to say that along with other groups of disenfranchised people, American Muslims have it tough right now. As a proud American, and a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman, I get looks from all directions when I explain my career goals. My intentions are simple: serve the country that has given me and my family so many opportunities, and try to make the world a better place to live in for future generations.
Being Muslim affects how I dress, present myself, and what I practice privately, but at the end of the day, I want to help people. Public service is where I see myself doing that, and now more than ever, we need a more diverse group of people representing our country.