The Sky Is the Limit for This Former Eagle
Writer / Janelle Morrison
Photographer / JJ Kaplan
A former Zionsville Eagle, Sara Zaheer is soaring beyond the horizon while creating a legacy of her own. Zaheer, a 2013 graduate of Zionsville High School (ZHS), is a senior at Indiana University and the student body president for this academic year.
As the student body president of the Indiana University Student Association (IUSA), Zaheer takes her place among a small group of women who have served in this role. Her mentor and former advisor from Zionsville High School was the first female student body president at IU. Mary Grabianowski was elected in 1971. She is well-known for being a trailblazer for women’s equality and rights on campus. Grabianowski just recently retired from ZCS but continues to represent her Cream and Crimson community and endorsed Zaheer’s “REAL for IUSA” campaign.
“I knew that I wanted to be involved in that level of student work while I was in high school,” Zaheer revealed. “That experience allowed me to put myself in other people’s shoes and to be compassionate to all sides of the issues. I was involved in our school’s ‘Pennies for Patients’ fundraising campaign, benefitting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The goal was to ensure that our high school raised the most funds for that fundraiser again. We proudly met that goal in my year as class president.”
Zaheer attributes her leadership roles in high school and learning early on how to be a team player to her development and growth in her positions on the Bloomington campus. She is studying political science and is in the Liberal Arts and Management program (LAMP). LAMP is an honors-level, interdisciplinary certificate program offered by the College of Arts and Sciences in cooperation with the Kelley School of Business. The program combines a liberal arts or science major with specialized training in business and management to prepare students with wide interests and leadership potential.
“It is important to be able to bring the students together and show them that they can each impact the issues,” Zaheer emphasized. “Young people, aka Millennials, have a tenancy to be very competitive and compare each other to who has the most ‘likes’ on the various social media platforms. I think that they need to hear more about how that stuff doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things, and learning to do things on their own that they are passionate about will only benefit them in the long run. It’s about figuring out who their support system is and creating a network of people who can help them along their paths.”
Running for IUSA president wasn’t as easy as throwing her hat into the ring of eligible candidates. Zaheer had a few obstacles to work through. She is not a full-ride scholar adorned with prestigious honors nor is she directly associated with the campus’ Greek organizations. These accolades are typical of a student body presidential candidate’s resume. Zaheer did not let this impede her drive to reach out and speak with the various student organizations and associations on matters that are important to them.
She got involved with the IUSA as a freshman with the internship program and quickly learned who all of the campus influencers are. She quickly rose in ranks and was the Chief of Staff for the immediate past-president of the IUSA. While she is not studying in this department, she has a passion for communications and is the outgoing communications chair for the Indiana University Journal of Undergraduate Research. Putting her early training on team building and advocacy to productive use throughout her REAL for IUSA campaign paid off as she was elected president in April of this year.
“It was a busy semester as I was meeting with various groups and individuals discussing what issues mattered to them,” Zaheer said. “The big issues that we, as a campus, are discussing in great detail are issues on diversity inclusion on campus, sexual violence prevention and mental healthcare and awareness. We are collectively working with each other and with the administration on these important issues. It is my goal during my term that we make sure that all students who come to this university are included and are aware of the various activities that they can participate in.”
Access to mental healthcare is a rising need and a relatively new topic of conversation for the IUSA leadership. As the needs of the student body change, the programs and resources that are offered have to be updated and expanded as a response to these needs.
“Health and safety are important topics for Millenniels, and that includes access to mental healthcare,” Zaheer explained. “We are doing so many high-stress activities in our lives. We are trying to keep up on our grades, acclimate to our young adult lives and balance an active social life, and sometimes that can be overwhelming. We want to get the message out and create a culture that asking for help is okay and then be able to have access to counselors and the appropriate resources.”
Zaheer is focused on developing a culture within her leadership of listening and discussing. She acknowledged that she was the underdog candidate. However, she is determined to be a strong advocate for her student body and work on issues such as advocating for the Lifeline Law and working with the administration, staff and local law enforcement, so that no student is punished for assisting a student in need and potentially saving lives.
“You may not get immediate change, but it’s important to keep the conversation going,” she expressed. “I want people to know that I want to expand the engagement opportunities within the IUSA and bring in more voices. I ran on transparency and would love for others to realize where the change affecting our campus is coming from.
I want our students to realize that they can use their voice, and if they pay, they have a say. I hope that we can create a culture on campus that encourages people to voice their concerns and ideas and not just give up because it seems impossible at the time. I look at my role this year as an organizer and as a dot connector to help someone else do something greater.”
Prior to her campaign, Zaheer interned in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill for Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
“It was a great experience, and I was able to see firsthand the issues that people from all over the nation are concerned about. My favorite quote from the United States EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was, ‘A life in public service doesn’t make you rich, but it gives you a rich life.’ I am not sure what my long-term plan looks like, but I am focusing on where I am now and what I would like to accomplish during this year.”