Alumni Spotlight: Sara Dada

Sara Dada is our first Alumni Spotlight for the month of November! She is currently a Fulbright Scholar at Royal Veterinary College and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Sara shares about her leadership journey and the skills acquired from 21st Century Leaders such as the value of developing a personal brand and more… She is a graduate of Wheeler High School (2013) and of the Georgia Institute of Technology (2017). Read on!

Paint a brief picture of what you are doing now.

I am just finishing up my MSc in One Health (Infectious Disease) at the Royal Veterinary College and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. For the past year, I have been in London studying as a Fulbright scholar. During this time, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet other prestigious scholars studying in the U.K., attend a variety of talks and events in my field of work or at the US Embassy, conduct field work in Sierra Leone and India, and contribute to a number of development and research projects.

How did participating in 21CL transform you and lead you to where you are now?

While participating in 21CL feels like a million years ago, I do think this organization had a great impact on my confidence and ability as a leader that heavily influenced my involvement in college and beyond. 21CL camps were among my first experiences with groups of other leaders and change-makers and being a part of that network was inspiring. One of my most memorable and impactful experiences was when the entire cohort at Georgia Southern in 2011 came together to support the non-profit organization I had started. In February 2011, I started “Give Hope: RSD” and sold wristbands to raise money for research on Reflexive Sympathetic Dystrophy. I had presented this cause one night of camp and by the end of the week, everyone surprised me by donating a total of around $200-300 dollars. The whole group had been pooling their donations to present at one of our final evenings (where I shamelessly cried). I was unbelievably moved by this show of support and motivated by the kindness and inspiration of the leaders around me.

And how did 21CL prepare you for your next steps? Going into college and taking on leadership roles, heading into a new era of professionalism, etc. What skills/tools/perspectives have helped you along the way?

I do think 21CL prepared me for my next steps in college by giving me the leadership development skills and confidence to take on leadership roles from the moment I stepped onto campus.

Which programs did you participate in, and when? What skills did you gain or improve through those programs?

I attended G5, now called the Summer Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI), at Emory in 2010 and the summer leadership institute at Georgia Southern in 2011.

What was a memorable or ‘aha’ moment in 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peers, speaking in public for the first time, etc.?)

My 21CL “aha” moment is still with me EIGHT years later! I can’t remember the particular name of the session, but I remember sitting in that lecture hall at Emory one very hot summer day in 2010 discussing personal brands. The speakers mentioned the value in setting up and running a blog. I think they explained the value in a blog developing your personal brand and providing a unique experience in writing and other skills that could be marketable down the line. That was the moment that I decided to start my own blog. And while activity on the blog has fluctuated over the past 8 years, it has been an amazing place to look back on my journey. Even more importantly, it has been a vital channel through which I communicate and express my view of the world. My blog posts have had everywhere from 8 to 2000 views and it has consistently served as a place for me to develop both personally and professionally. I have recently actually challenged myself to turn my blog into a website and have been working on this project all summer – you can check it out here:

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so how? And have you recently learned something else about leadership? Please share!

21CL introduced me to various types of leadership styles and roles and allowed me to try them out in different ways. But my last five years in college and beyond challenged the typical understanding of leadership that I had. One of the most important lessons I have learned from a book called “Leadership on the Line” has been “Meaning derives from finding ways to love and contribute to worldly enterprise.” I read this statement at a time when I was really struggling. I had just lost not one, but two presidential elections for campus organizations I was heavily involved in. I was feeling not only that I had failed as a leader in those organizations but also helpless that I would be unable to serve my community in the upcoming year. This quote, and other lessons from this book and experiences in my life at the time, pointed me in a new direction. I soon realized and truly appreciated that meaning does not derive from the positions or leadership “roles” that we fill, but from what we do and the actions we take. Since then, I have reminded myself that I can find meaning and contribute to worldly enterprise in a variety of traditional and non-traditional ways such as by writing on my blog, serving as a mentor, and being a positive energy in the teams to which I contribute.