Maryam Dada: Outstanding Leader in the UBC Community and Beyond

Maryam Dada is a recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Leader in the UBC Community and Beyond award.

Hometown: Richmond, BC
Program of Study: Interdisciplinary Studies
UBC Affiliations: AMS Vice
UBC Awards: Ann Liisa McCutcheon Memorial Award
How can we connect with you? Through LinkedIn and on Instagram @ryamdada

Why did you choose your academic program of study?
I actually started at UBC in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems as an Applied Biology major, a very different path than the one I’m on now. I knew almost right away that it wasn’t the program for me. Nothing about soil science really piqued my interest, but more than that I felt that I just didn’t belong at university. I made the decision to transfer to the Faculty of Arts in my second year, without any real direction about what I wanted to do, that is, until I took my first psychology course.

PSYCH 101 was an eye-opener for me. All of a sudden, I enjoyed going to class, I loved being able to have meaningful discussions with my classmates, and I actually went to office hours—regularly! I knew I had found a subject matter I was interested in. In my third year, I took a Social Work course about HIV prevention and care at St. Paul’s Hospital, which introduced me to the world of healthcare. I was able to see first-hand the role of a therapist in healthcare. This experience was instrumental to my career path, because I knew that if there was a way to help people, simply by listening to them, then I wanted to learn how to do it. When I discovered the Interdisciplinary Studies program, I was thrilled! Being an interdisciplinary student allowed me to combine my love of psychology with my interest in healthcare, and I was able to take courses that were more career oriented. Every time I think about my university journey, I feel very privileged to have found something I care so passionately about.

Maryam promoting AMS VICE.

What are some of the meaningful experiences you’ve had at UBC?
The best thing about being a UBC student, is how many opportunities there are to be involved on campus. I have been volunteering with AMS VICE since last September, and it has been one of the most fulfilling undertakings of my undergraduate degree. AMS VICE is student-led service to provide support to other students around their own “vice”.

Whether it involves substance use or technology use, we work towards helping students find their balance. Volunteering with peers who are all so impassioned about our community is an added bonus. I wanted to get involved with VICE because I was interested learning more about campus culture and people’s thoughts around harm reduction. Having previously volunteered in the DTES, I am strong believer in the non-judgemental harm reduction approach when it comes to substance use, and I was glad to learn that there is a strong UBC community that supports it too.

What’s an important life lesson that your involvement activities have taught you?
I began volunteering at the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation—a centre for people living with HIV—in my third year. Every Friday morning you can find me there chatting to participants, playing board games with them, or simply listening to them sing their hearts out at Karaoke. It is the day of week I look forward to the most, because every participant has a reason to come and I am fortunate enough to always experience a real human connection. One of the most important things I’ve learned is simply being there for another human being, it is truly an unparalleled wonder.

Throughout my volunteering in the community, whether it be Dr. Peter Centre, PainBC, or the NISA Helpline, I’ve learned about what it means to be marginalized in society. I’ve interacted with people who use substances, people who’ve been in prison, people who have had abusive upbringings, and people who live with chronic pain. While I could go on about systemic injustice and the need for more interventions or non-profit programs, the number one thing I have learned through these interactions, is the very poignant fact that people are people. Although this is both simple and obvious, it has taught me that no matter where you come from, or what you believe, we all experience similar emotions, and therefore, we can empathize with anyone.

Maryam and Dean of Arts Gage Averill at the 2019 Dean’s Reception for Graduating Student Leaders.

You recently received a 2019 Outstanding Leader Award. What does it mean to be a great Arts student leader?
I am still both overwhelmed at humbled to have received this award. Being an active member of the community has always been important to me. There’s a certain responsibility that comes with receiving these kinds of awards, because people are taking the time to read about my experiences. So, if you’re reading this, I want you to know, that even if it’s only one small act of kindness, you have it in you to affect change. I think Rumi said it best, “You are not one small drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in the drop.”

Maryam with a friend at the Dean’s reception.

What are the top three things that every Arts student should try before they graduate?
I think it’s incredibly beneficial to put yourself out there. You are so wholly unique, and your contributions will reflect that. Being a part of something bigger than you can be transformative! One of the things I wish I had learned sooner was believing in the quality of my output. The amount of time, effort, and energy you put into something will absolutely determine the quality of the output. So as long as you give it heart you have no reason to doubt yourself. Whether it’s joining a club or a service, participating in a research conference, or working in a team of like-minded individuals—get involved on campus!

If you had the chance to re-start your UBC experience, what would you do differently?
I’m tempted to say that I wish I had started out in Arts instead of transferring, but if I’m being truly honest, I wouldn’t change a thing. I believe we are who we are because of our unique experiences. I needed to have that initial struggle in first and second year to end up in the here and now. I think it’s a good reminder for me to look back and see how far I’ve come, and learning about how to celebrate the small things, because they matter too.

What’s next for you?
I am grateful to have received a partial scholarship to study an M.A. in Counselling Psychology, at Adler University this fall! I have dreamed (and planned) about going to grad school since my third year, and it is a really amazing feeling to see all the hard work I’ve put in come into fruition!

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Meet the other award winners of the 2019 Dean’s Reception for Graduating Student Leaders.