If I could use one word to describe Urbah Syed it would be badass—and while I know that badass is actually two words I really don’t care, and neither would she.
Meet Syed, newest poster child of WISEST, also known as Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science & Technology, a unit of the University of Alberta dedicated to empowering women in the fields of science, engineering and technology.
When I first met Syed, I was convinced she was a biker. Apparently she’s isn’t. Not yet, anyway... When asked, she said Ducatti would probably be her ride of choice, because she is little. Something in red and maybe silver, with one of those funky helmets that look like a skull. When I asked her what kind of sports she was into, she said archery, olympic air pistol, and fencing. “Pardon?” I said. Oh yeah, she also placed first in archery at territorials, and first in pistol and fencing at her high school a few years back. No big deal. So I thought I’d take it one step further and ask what would her weapon of choice be in a zombie apocalypse because, you know, you have to ask the important questions. The easy guess would be swords, right? Wrong. Urbah is an axe gal. Think ancient viking.
By now, I bet you’re asking, what does a sharp-shooting, sword-fighting, axe-wielding, Ducatti-wanting, viking-channelling girl have to do with WISEST? Everything, really. She’s hungry, kind, intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded, into science, and female. A change-maker.
It all started when Syed was in Yellowknife, where she lived with her family. This is where she and college student Kristan Marion formed MAGMA, the Magnanimous Advocates Generating Mental Awareness. The support for their program was astounding: teachers volunteered to hold meetings once a week; local businesses donated supplies to hold a coffee house poetry and song night; and startup supplies were donated. In a beautiful and remote community where the summers are never dark, the cohesiveness of this diverse group of people was remarkable, in no small part because this same community still struggles with the fallout of residential schools, drug abuse, and a high dropout rate.
This is one of the many reasons that when Syed and Marion formed MAGMA they had such overwhelming support, and why when Syed showed an interest in studying science at university, her teachers went above and beyond to provide her many opportunities like joining WISEST. It’s also why Syed is going back to Yellowknife as soon as she graduates with her bachelor of science from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science.
There’s nothing quite like it, she says. Yellowknife is made up of people from all over the world, from Africa to the Middle East, to Europe and the First Nations. There’s no room for prejudice.
Syed would know. She is Muslim. You can pick her out by the cute little hat she wears atop her Hijab. She painted it up herself with a fierce little unicorn whose nickname, “Urbanator,” is written below.
When asked if there were any times when someone somewhere had been prejudiced towards her, she replied, “There’s plenty, but there will always be something people can hate you for—whether it’s what you wear, how you talk, or if you’re an Oilers fan or not. So you might as well live a life that’s true to you.”
So, as you can probably guess, Syed is as diverse as the community she comes from, and she brings that diversity everywhere she goes.
That’s why she’s one of our top students in InSciTE, aka the Interdisciplinary Science Threshold Experience, a first-year undergraduate program that couples the classic university experience with unique, integrated learning opportunities. It’s also why she so eager to volunteer for groups like WISEST and Safewalk. It’s why she jumped at the opportunity to turn a one-day capstone experiment into a week-long microbiology project in a research lab.
Community, Syed says, is the most important thing. If you’re not staying involved, you lose touch with important issues and fall prey to apathy, which can be a dangerous thing on a larger scale.
Syed just finished her first year in Science and wants to be either a doctor, a researcher, or join the army.
I for one am very curious to see which one she chooses.