For political science major Sidra Shabbir (Brooklyn ’20, B.A.), getting to meet Denis McDonugh, President Barack Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, was the icing on the cake when she recently represented Long Island University at the 7th Annual McDonald Conference for Leaders of Character held at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy.
“I was freaking out! I had no idea he was going to be there,” said Shabbir, who grew up in Dyker Heights and graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn.
“I was on my own completely, miles away from home, so obviously I was really intimidated and also very scared,” Shabbir admitted. “But after the four-day weekend I made so many friends and made so many connections, and networked so much, I feel that I learned a lot of life lessons from this experience.”
Named after Robert A. McDonald, the former chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, the leadership conference brings together “top undergraduate student leaders from diverse backgrounds to participate in a team-based, experimental and analytical exercise,” as the mission statement says, “that bolsters leadership skills, fosters critical thinking and collaboration, and develops potential strategies for addressing pressing global issues.”
“Sidra’s an extraordinary young woman and a phenomenal student,” said Scott Krawczyk, Ph.D., Dean of the LIU Brooklyn Richard L. Conolly College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. After applying to the program in the fall, he learned in February that the University had been offered to send one exceptional student to the leadership conference with all expenses paid.
“This was a remarkable opportunity for one lucky LIU student,” he said. “It helped to shine a bright light on LIU within an array of highly distinguished students from some of the finest academic institutions in the world.”
After Dean Krawczyk consulted with Dr. Nathaniel Bowditch, Dean of the LIU Post College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, he said that “Sidra was the clear top choice.”
And so in late March, Shabbir was one of 60 students gathered on the banks of the Hudson River from across the country and around the world. Among the speakers at the four-day conference on the theme of leadership and technology was Jack Ma, co-founder and current chairman of Alibaba Group, a Chinese multinational conglomerate specializing in e-commerce, retail, Internet and technology. A former school teacher in eastern China, he started Alibaba out of his apartment and became one of the world’s richest entrepreneurs.
“He was so down to earth,” she said. “I was not expecting that!”
Each day of the conference was filled with panel discussions and special speakers. “There were a lot of Type A personalities up there,” Shabbir said, with a laugh, adding that sometimes the debate could get “a little heated,” but she took it upon herself to play a mediating role, which she found very rewarding.
When Denis McDonough was seated on a panel, she brought up the issue of drones. “So I decided to ask that in light of technology and innovation, do you believe that the ethical boundaries have become blurred, and if so, how do we make them clearer?” He took the mic, applauded the question, and responded energetically. Afterwards, she mustered the confidence to introduce herself.
“He told me, ‘We need more minds like yours in the White House!’ Wow, I was floored! He was so nice!”
Following McDonough’s footsteps to the West Wing is not in Shabbir’s current plans, however. After she graduates, she wants to go to law school and specialize in immigration and civil rights. She had nothing but praise for the preparation she’s gained at LIU Brooklyn. Out of high school she spent her freshman year at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, in mid-town Manhattan.
“The faculty really didn’t care about the students,” she said. “I didn’t like the community there.” Her older sister, Iqra, a first-year student at LIU Pharma, recommended that she transfer to LIU Brooklyn because the classes were smaller and the faculty more engaged.
“At Hunter there were these huge lecture halls, sometimes with 500 kids,” Shabbir said. “It wasn’t for me.”
Her time at LIU has been very rewarding. In fact, she was elected sophomore governor of her class.
Now that she’s been to the conference at West Point, she enthused, “I want to go to more conferences! That was the best experience. I made so many friends! I feel I’m going to keep these connections for a very long time!”