Saneeha Shamshad ’20 considers herself a “different type of leader.” When asked to elaborate, she adds, “I’m super quiet and I tend not to speak a lot.” The long list of extracurricular activities that Saneeha pursued in the past and continues to develop today, however, suggests that speaking up perhaps isn’t the best measurement of a person’s leadership potential.
Ever since high school, Saneeha has found ways to serve her student community. In high school, she helped run a 120-person club that offered mentorship for students interested in technology. At Diablo Valley College, Saneeha volunteered with a group to teach English to immigrants; became involved in other campus youth groups, including the Muslim student group; and served as the president of the honor society, Phi Theta Kappa.
While each of these roles required Saneeha to assume a leadership position, she had little intention to seek a similar role when she transferred to UC Berkeley during her junior year. “The application process was really stressful, so after I got admitted, I just wanted everything that followed to be smooth sailing,” she remembers.
This was before she began to learn more about the transfer student space and experience on the Cal campus. “I heard some really sad statistics about transfer student representation on campus and in the ASUC,” she says. “In the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), there were basically no transfer students who were elected.” More than a quarter of UC Berkeley’s incoming class are transfer students.
“We all win when our leaders are diverse, care about their community, and act upon that care.”
When Saneeha later heard there was still time to apply to the transfer advocacy department in the ASUC Office of the President, she threw her app in. She was hired.
As a transfer advocate, Saneeha dedicates her efforts toward making less-inclusive spaces more inclusive of students who come from less-traditional backgrounds and uplifting students—particularly transfer students—who often get overlooked because “they aren’t loud” or don’t otherwise fit the traditional UC Berkeley freshman-admit student profile.
“I intentionally joined a department that served as an example of how I wanted other spaces to follow. The department was made up of unique people with diverse experiences. On my specific team, we have people of every race, and we’re all transfers,” Saneeha explains. “Right now, we’re working to create a Google Drive of resources for transfer students, and I’m hoping to improve Golden Bear Orientation (UC Berkeley’s new student orientation) to better accommodate student parents who largely don’t have time to attend the orientation as it’s currently structured.
“Because I’m a transfer advocate in the ASUC, I’m able to have more access to student spaces that have historically been less accessible, particularly to transfer students, so I want to take advantage of that. About a third of my department is made up of fellow Cal Alumni Association scholarship recipients!” she adds.
Saneeha is also a Leadership Award recipient, and she notes the positive impact the award has made on her transition to UC Berkeley. “There are such few resources available for transfer students, so receiving the Leadership Award really helps validate my experience and affirm the work that I’m doing to support my transfer student community,” she says. “We all win when our leaders are diverse, care about their community, and act upon that care. Knowing that my efforts and my work are recognized encourages me to continue expanding access for others in my community.”
The definition of being a leader, then, is perhaps best described by Saneeha herself: “There isn’t a cookie-cutter form to leadership.”