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Finding innovative solutions to equity issues

  • Sana Shaikh

Sana Shaikh wants children across the United States, and the world, to have access to high-quality education. As she pursues her Ph.D. at Brandies University, Sana also continues her professional development in hopes of having a larger impact for low-income students of color.

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?

I was born in Pakistan, and have dealt with systemic and institutional injustices since I was a child. In Pakistan, wealth and social status translated to power, influence, and the ability to navigate a rigid hierarchy; one where women were consistently relegated to the bottom rungs of the proverbial ladder.

For Pakistani women, education had limited social value. Instead, value was limited to the color of their skin, their family background, and their ability to secure a wealthy husband.

Tired of the corruption, complacency, and broken education system, my parents came to the United States with me and my sister, so we could have a high-quality education. We landed in Roseville, an affluent enclave in Northern California.

Though I was one of the handful of students of color in my school district, I thrived, propelled by the hunger, knowledge, and desire of being a student in the United States.

For me, educational equity is deeply personal because my own education has given me ownership over my life’s decisions, the power to articulate my story, and the ability to speak truth.

How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?

LEE has provided me with formative professional opportunities and the ability to network with policymakers, activists, and advocates all working to end educational inequity.

In 2014, I went to the Women’s Political Leadership Program (WPLP), a conference specifically geared towards women wanting to run for public office. The two-day convening pushed me to be reflective about my own goals and aspirations for being a public official while being in the same space with inspiring women entrepreneurs, leaders, and changemakers.

I left WPLP with a clearly articulated vision for my own professional trajectory and a renewed optimism in the ability of women to change the world.

Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?

I am currently the director of the college and career readiness alliance at Voices for Children. I am charged with spearheading, organizing, and running the steering committee, which is composed of executive directors, heads, and directors of a myriad of nonprofits and policy organizations throughout the greater Connecticut area.

We partner to use our resources to develop initiatives and policy solutions for college-bound Connecticut students. In partnership with the Nellie Mae Foundation, our high-level goal is to have 80% of Connecticut students college-and-career ready by 2030. 

This initiative is important because not only are we having discussions about the impediments faced especially by students of color, but we are co-constructing tangible solutions to help develop and push legislation that can best support these students.

What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?

Educational inequity cannot be dismantled without defining, understanding, and framing the social and institutional injustices that disproportionately impact impoverished, students of color. Often, the language used by policymakers and media pundits is vague and amorphous, creating a narrative of blame against students who are trying to achieve their life goals and aspirations. Furthermore, there needs to be diverse stakeholders at the table, including students who are being impacted by educational policies.

I often find that academic and policy circles are largely homogeneous. There needs to be a more concerted effort to engage stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. In my professional career, I have yet to discover a Pakistani woman with similar experiences and aspirations, and that should not be the reality in 2018. 

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?

I want to finish my doctorate so that I can have the academic credentials, research skills, and professional networks to become an executive director of policy and advocacy group or large think tank.

I am also interested in pursuing an MBA in the future so that I can have the financial acumen to budget properly for the organization that I lead.

Ultimately, I want to couple academia, policy, and advocacy to innovate and implement solutions for people of color from low-income backgrounds. LEE is such a meaningful network for me for so many reasons, and LEE members continue to inspire me and push me to be a better leader and person.