Shifa Akhtar is a neuroscience major hailing from Tallahassee, Florida, who has made her mark on campus with her passion and dedication to women’s issues and her leadership in UM’s nationally-ranked Model United Nations team. She was this year’s recipient of the university’s Louise P. Mills Award, which recognizes a student each year who has advanced women or women’s issues. Akhtar is the current president of the National Organization of Women, and after graduation she plans on taking a gap year before medical school to conduct service for a nonprofit organization like City Year Miami or Misericordia in Chicago.
The Miami Hurricane: You’ve done a lot of service work, specifically involving women’s rights and women’s issues. Why do you think that you’ve found yourself drawn to these issues in all the involvements that you’ve been in?
Akhtar: I became interested in women’s issues and human rights when I learned about the topic of acid burning. Although acid burning occurs all over the world, the heaviest concentration of these attacks are in South Asia. It stuck out to me particularly that this violence was perpetuated against women, which prompted me to research more into the topic and into other women’s issues. I became passionate about women’s issues, especially about acid-burn victims, and joined the National Organization for Women at UM’s E-board during their first year on campus. I hope to use all that I’ve learned regarding women’s issues in the future to act as an advocate for women’s health disparities within the World Health Organization and start an NGO for acid-burn victims in India.
TMH: What is something you have learned about women’s rights, or about people in general, from all of your service work?
A: After working with the women at the Lotus House, I’ve learned that regardless of how bad your circumstances in life, you can achieve your goals and pull yourself back up with dedication and hard work. The Lotus House is a homeless shelter for women and children in Miami, where NOW does a clothing drive every semester and hosts numerous community service events at. The residents and volunteers at the Lotus House inspire women to support other women and create a sense of community.
TMH: What do you think is one of your proudest accomplishments?
A: Everything that I’ve been able to do with NOW at UM this year. Although we started off as a relatively small organization two and a half years ago, we have grown a great deal this year and have started holding large-scale events that we had not held previously. This semester, we’ve held speaker panels on topics including women in STEM, women’s health and human trafficking, which are each important women’s issues to bring light to. We have also been able to hold multiple successful service events this year, which we had not done before. NOW at UM has become a social action organization that raises awareness about women’s issues within the student body at UM and within the greater community, and I can’t wait to see the future events that NOW at UM puts on after I graduate.
TMH: What do you do for fun? Interesting hobbies, activities, talents, books, movies, etc.?
A: I really enjoy crafting in my free time, and try to pick up on different crafts every now and then! I also really enjoy reading mystery novels, photography and watching Netflix in bed.