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It’s been quite an active junior year for Shafuq Naseem. While many Schar School of Policy and Government students are busy enough with their studies, Naseem took on a new role as a research assistant for a project that she helped conceptualize—and for that her effort and other achievements, she received the Gender and Policy Center (GAP) Leadership Award.
That was just one of the honors bestowed on the government and international politics major this year. In October, Naseem was one of only 68 students in the country chosen to attend the Harvard Kennedy School’s Public Policy and Leadership Conference.
Naseem, it would seem, has made the most of the opportunities afforded by the Schar School and George Mason University.
In addition to attending the highly competitive conference at Harvard, the Springfield, Virginia, native has broadened her experience, made meaningful relationships, and assisted those in need throughout her college career, all while maintaining a parent-pleasing GPA.
She spent 10 weeks in the fall of 2021 as an intern for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Women’s Rights Project. And this spring semester, she wrapped up an internship with Workplace Fairness, a worker’s rights resource organization.
Naseem gets her physical exercise amid her academic and extracurricular activities by running whenever she has the chance. Would she also have time to join a club? Well, actually, not only does she belong to a club, but she founded it—in her freshman year.
“It’s the Patriot Period Project,” she said. “Our mission is to address menstrual equity and period poverty on Mason's campuses.”
The pilot program, which distributes free menstruation products at campus bathrooms, began in the fall of 2021 and is expected to continue into 2022. Of course, at the time of founding the organization, the then-first-year student would hardly know the intricate ins-and-outs of beginning a brand-new, student-operated organization at a large academic institution such as Mason, and for that she worked with a network of student leaders with more experience, including the present and past student body presidents.
“I’m really fortunate to have met such inspiring and kind student-leaders who are willing to take the time and support me and the work I am doing. Many have become some of my closest friends at Mason,” she said of the relationships she’s developed. “I definitely owe it to a lot to my family, friends, and professors who continue to support me.”
One of those faculty members is Heba F. El-Shazli, an assistant professor with the Schar School and director of undergraduate programs. As an example of how faculty members can help students achieve their goals beyond the classroom, Naseem said the Women’s Rights Project specifically mentioned in their acceptance email the powerful letter of recommendation from El-Shazli.
“It is such a wonderful feeling when one can help another—when I can help such a deserving, hard-working, and dedicated student,” said El-Shazli.
That the professor knew Naseem so well is not an accident. She was El-Shazli’s student during a summer intensive course in which 14 weeks of study is condensed into five weeks.
“Let us say it is not a kind, gentle way to be introduced to a professor and their courses,” El-Shazli confides. “Yet, Shafuq came to as many office hours as she could three to four out of the five weeks” for wide-ranging conversations that touched on everything from workers’ rights in developing countries to environmental degradation to books, with Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist being a particular favorite in common.
This year Naseem worked alongside a student team of researchers in the Undergraduate Research Assistant Program (URAP) to help Associate Professor Bonnie Stabile, director of the Gender and Policy Center, perform advanced research on a subject titled “Pink Taxes and Period Poverty.”
The topic, Stabile said, “was brought to my attention by Shafuq.” Her inspiration and her work led to the GAP Leadership Award.
Naseem recommends all students “open yourself up to meeting new people and getting to know your professors,” she said. “Not only do they want you to succeed in the classroom, but they also want to support you outside the classroom, with professional opportunities, or anything you find interesting.”