Leading the Way

By Marcia Faye
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Students Dhara Shah, Ali Riaz, and Anita Thomas
Photos: Michael Goss

Some IIT students say that family role models, such as their parents or other relatives, shaped their community service mindset. Some began volunteering regularly during high school at nursing homes or hospital gift shops, or for special events. Their reasons for giving back may vary, but their motivation can often be summarized simply.

“If one act can bring a smile to someone’s face, that’s pretty much all the drive I need to keep contributing to the community,” says Ali Riaz (ECE 2nd year). “Whatever path you take in your life, you must always find the time to give something back to your community, state, or country. Reaching out to help people will bring you more satisfaction than anything else you’ve ever done.”

Meet six IIT students who are making a difference in their community by leading their own quiet revolutions for change.

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“Anything that gets you involved in events on campus and in the community makes your college experience that much better.”

Melanie Koto

Major/Minor: Biology/Mathematics and Science Education
Year: 4th

Community service highlight: Bringing first-ever Relay for Life to IIT’s The Big Event Why Relay for Life appeals to her: “I participated in Relay all four years of high school. It brings students and members of the community together through a very real and admirable goal—eliminating cancer and the pain that it causes.”

Why more students should consider giving back: “Anything that gets you involved in events on campus and in the community makes your college experience that much better, especially if what you are doing gives you a good feeling inside. Participating in community service events can be a really fun way to achieve that.”

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“After all, service is the rent we pay for living.”

Ali Riaz

Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Year: 2nd

Community service highlight: Spearheaded campus festival—Eid-ul-Azha—that included fundraising for flood victims in Pakistan Eid-ul-Azha festival efforts: “The Pakistan Student Association collaborated with the Muslim Student Association on the Eid festival as a great way to bring Muslims and people of other faiths together. When I heard that the monsoon rains [in Pakistan] affected more than 8.1 million people, I was devastated. We held several fundraising drives and donated all of the money to Islamic Relief.”

Why more students should consider giving back: “The personal satisfaction that you’ll get once you’ve helped someone is simply amazing. And trust me on this—it doesn’t matter how big or small an act you do; once you start, you’ll want even more. After all, service is the rent we pay for living, and it’s really a small price to pay for a great life!”

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Russel Hauser

Major: Dual-degree Program in Psychology and Sociology
Year: 3rd

Community service highlight: Serves on the executive board of the IIT Chapter of Active Minds, a national organization committed to the promotion of mental health awareness on college campuses

What his role involves: “As the current research liaison, I provide helpful resources for Active Minds members and other students. Last semester, I coordinated a group delegation to travel to Washington, D.C., for the Active Minds National Conference. We networked with a lot of other involved Active Minds members.”

His community-service inspiration: “My grandfather Keith McKee (CE ’50, M.S. ’56, Ph.D. ’62) has been my best role model. Not only did he put in the hard work to obtain his degrees, but he also gave back to his community, the most visible result of which can be seen on campus today: IIT’s Industrial Technology and Management program. He had gone a very long way to become the optimistic, influential, and confident man he would be throughout his life. All of this had happened because he knew what he was passionate about, and he fully believed that he could rise up to his aspirations.”

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“My role is, first and foremost, to lead by example.”

Anita Thomas

Major: Applied Mathematics
Year: 3rd

Community service highlight: Serves as a resident advisor in the McCormick Student Village Service-Learning Theme Community

What she contributes to her IIT student community: “The goal of this community is to connect students with service opportunities on and off campus and to facilitate their personal growth from these volunteer experiences. My role is, first and foremost, to lead by example. I am also responsible for maintaining awareness of different service opportunities and encouraging my residents to engage in those opportunities. My personal leadership style involves encouraging residents to gain new experiences as a means of gaining insight. Leading the community has held me accountable for my obligation to others and to the community around me.”

Special volunteer memory: “Last November, I led a donation drive to collect hygiene products for homeless Chicagoans through the Night Ministry organization. After receiving a cash donation of $10, I asked a couple of my residents to go shopping for items with me. As we looked around a ‘dollar store,’ trying to get the most out of our $10, I was touched by the dedication that united us. We were three very different people with one common goal—to help people less fortunate than ourselves.”

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“We’re working on setting a new world record of pizzas...to be delivered to troops serving in the Middle East.”

Kent Evans

Major: Mechanical Engineering, U.S. Air Force ROTC
Year: 1st Community service highlight: Pizza4Patriots

What it’s all about: “In 2008, my dad and I were eating pizza and watching a program about war on TV. I asked him if we could send the troops some pizza. We thought a good goal would be 300 pizzas and began raising money from family and friends. A story in the Daily Herald newspaper about our project must have touched a lot of people. Within two weeks, we raised enough money to send more than 2,000 deep-dish pizzas.”

Up next: “We’re working on setting a new world record of pizzas—50,000—to be delivered to troops serving in the Middle East on the Fourth of July. I’ll have to work on Pizza4Patriots as soon as I finish this semester of school.”

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“As IIT students, we are given opportunities to help create change, and each act of service or development is a step toward global change.”

Dhara Shah

Major: Biomedical Engineering
Year: 4th

Community service highlight: Director of projects and project manager of a water supply and distribution system in La Victoire, Haiti, through the IIT Chapter of Engineers Without Borders

Early volunteer memory: “My senior year in high school, I started the organization Genders Against Mean Experiences and Situations. We held anti-bullying action nights, did peer mentoring, and held outreach programs with middle schools in the area to put on skits and reach out to victims of bullying.”

Service helps create a well-rounded student: “As IIT students, we are given opportunities to help create change, and each act of service or development is a step toward global change. It is rewarding for us as students to participate in that change and to help improve the quality of life for someone, whether it is making a fleece tie-blanket or erecting solar panels.”

Read more about Dhara Shah in an IIT Magazine online exclusive.