Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Safia Sayed
By taking advantage of a myriad of opportunities on campus—including 6 internships—undergraduate senior, Safia Sayed, has truly made the most of her liberal arts education.
Even before officially enrolling, Safia, after a Campus Day visit, applied and was accepted to the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) where she would work throughout her first year with a Political Science PhD candidate researching the legislation of CEDAW, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Safia recounts the experience as a rare and “awesome opportunity” for an undergraduate to be involved in work with international human rights law. It was this research that both piqued Safia’s interest in women’s issues and primed her for her future experiences in human rights law while interning for Perseus Strategies, a D.C. human rights law firm that primarily works on prisoners of conscience cases, the following summer.
With a double minor in History and Women’s Studies: Gender, Race, and Nation, the Economics major was drawn to U-M by its wide selection of strong, interdisciplinary programs, benefiting from the incredibly expansive catalogue of courses Michigan offers—such as those focused on creative writing, modern dance, immigration law, and feminist history. Though she came to U-M already curious about economics, wanting to approach her policy interests quantitatively, Safia quickly found the field to be incredibly applicable to not only to real life and understanding how markets and society at large work, but to a wide range of future career interests as well.
Safia also has experience interning in Ann Arbor on the finance team of a congressional campaign, with the Public Defender’s office, and in a State Senate office. Abroad, Safia spent a month interning in Dehradun, India at a rape crisis center. The summer before her senior year, the Honors student returned to D.C. to intern at a think tank with the economic policy team from the Center for American Progress (CAP) where she researched a range of topics such as racial wealth gaps, union effects on labor markets, and sexual harassment law in various industries.
Already curious about economics, wanting to approach her policy interests quantitatively, Safia quickly found the field to be incredibly applicable to not only to real life and understanding how markets and society at large work, but to a wide range of future career interests as well.
Safia is well aware how privileged she is to have had the research and internship experiences she has, spanning a variety of fields and topics, allotting her opportunity to scope out various future career prospects. Safia has discovered a proclivity for formulating research questions and seeing projects through, start to finish. Working on a campaign helped her learn that she finds grassroots advocacy motivating and inspiring, and could enjoy working in public service. Her time at CAP appears to have been the most impactful, though, giving her a sense of the different types of work that various think tanks do in policy. Able to work with distinguished fellows working on an array of policy issues, Safia discovered that not only was she interested in issues of equity, but also fiscal policy and how much she missed working with data and quantitative research—something she plans to prioritize moving forward as she considers different positions post-college.
Though clearly a very busy student—having served as co-chair of the College Dems’ Women’s Issues Committee and currently serving as the Vice Chair of College Democrats at the University of Michigan—Safia has also found time to be involved in the opportunities provided by the Department of Economics.
Safia has served the department as one of the professional chairs of the Society for Women in Economics (SWIE). While she knows Economics is a great department, Safia is also able to recognize how it can be incredibly intimidating due to its size and gender imbalance. Safia has found working with SWIE very rewarding, aiming to increase the accessibility of the major to female students in whatever small way she can.
Taking advantage of Economics Honors coursework, such as Econ 495, Safia was afforded the opportunity to develop her own research exploring the effects of the global gag rules on contraceptive access in sub-Saharan Africa which restrict foreign aid to NGOs abroad that provide or advocate abortion services. Particularly interested in fiscal policy—the way taxation and government spending impact inequality and livelihoods—this has led Safia to aspire to governmental work on such policy issues in the future.
“What makes EARN valuable is the accessibility it provides for meaningful professional relationships.”
With the help of the Economics Alumni Relationship Network (EARN), a mentorship program connecting UM economics majors with UM economics alumni, Safia has been able to speak with many people in the many Economics fields about their work and developed a better sense of what she sees herself doing after graduation. As she puts it, “what makes EARN valuable is the accessibility it provides for meaningful professional relationships.” As someone who can be intimidated by the prospect of reaching out to people who are so advanced in their fields, EARN broke down that barrier for Safia by connecting her with alumni who self-identified as willing to help counsel students.
Safia reports that everyone she’s reached out to through EARN has responded enthusiastically and gone out of their way to make time for a meeting or phone call. Safia has been able to connect with alumni working in places she might like to work at someday, from the Urban Institute to Capitol Hill to the Department of Justice. She has a message for majors who have not yet signed up with EARN: “If you haven’t signed up for EARN, there is literally no reason not to. EARN is a platform of U-M Econ alum who have agreed to serve as mentors to undergrads. The platform allows you to search for alumni based on location, industry, etc., and makes it incredibly easy to connect. The worst thing that can happen when participating with EARN is that the alumni doesn’t respond--with that said, every alum I’ve reached out to has responded, and I only have positive experiences to report.”
“If you haven’t signed up for EARN, there is literally no reason not to. EARN is a platform of U-M Econ alum who have agreed to serve as mentors to undergrads. The platform allows you to search for alumni based on location, industry, etc., and makes it incredibly easy to connect."
To those considering a concentration in Economics, Safia would remind you how broad the field is. She knows many other majors who are pursuing work in banking, consulting, law, and policy to only name a few. Do not be discouraged by one bad experience in an Econ course; Safia admits to having struggled with some Econ courses over others, and finding some more interesting than others. This is just part of the learning experience—economics is so broad and versatile, there’s bound to be some things you don’t take to as well as others. Also, do not be intimidated! There are certainly a few daunting aspects surrounding introductory Economics classes—they’re filled with many students, including upperclassmen and students looking to earn top grades for Ross/Ford applications, they are prerequisites for the Economics major, and in truth they can be challenging. Nevertheless, approach your first Econ course knowing what to expect and being prepared to work hard. Don’t fall into the trap of cramming before exams—make sure to study consistently throughout the course and you’ll be surprised at how manageable it can become.
Safia would also share that it did take her a while to realize what a unique opportunity college is. Never again will you have this sort of opportunity to pursue such a range of interests and learn about such a wide variety of things so do not neglect to incorporate random curiosities into course selections. Also, in general, avoid overstressing about majors and be sure to take classes that actually interest and engage you and will provide you with skills you hope to gain. Throughout her time at UM, Safia knew many people who were crushed when they were not admitted into a desired program, whether that was Ross or Ford or elsewhere, but she stresses that it isn’t the degree program on your diploma that ultimately matters most: “what’s important is if you spent these … years in college picking up the knowledge and skills that will be useful and engaging to you… Worry about that, and everything else will work itself out.”