School of Social Work
Taha B. Zaffar
In addition to winning the President’s Medallion, Taha Zaffar was also awarded a Ricci Scholarship, a year-long study abroad scholarship for highly motivated students. While overseas, he’s researched college seniors’ outlooks on employment and is conducting a study comparing students in Rome with students in Beijing.
In Chicago, Zaffar volunteered at LIFT, an agency that works to establish new standards for holistic and enduring solutions in the country’s fight against poverty.
Here, he talks about his experience as an orientation leader, his volunteer work with the less fortunate, and the sacrifices his father made to help his family.
What’s your favorite Loyola memory?
It’s hard to pick one, but one of my favorite and fondest Loyola memories is the convocation for new students in the summer of 2012. It was my first summer working as an orientation leader and I loved the energy of all of the new first-year students. All of Gentile Arena was packed and the speaker, Sonia Nazario, was not only inspirational but really embodied the notion that we could all make an impact in the world.
Talk a little about a professor or mentor who inspired you.
I’ve been very fortunate to have several formative mentors here at Loyola, but a mentor who inspired me to push forward and dream big is Professor Scott Leon of the psychology department. What I find truly inspirational and empowering is the way he considers my ideas and wants to take an active role in helping me reach my goals for the future. He is confident in my ability to reach my potential, and you can never have too many people like that around in your life.
Tell us about your volunteer/service work and what it means to you.
My volunteer service at LIFT-Chicago honestly changed the trajectory of my life. At LIFT, I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with clients to help them reach their goals regarding housing, employment, public benefits, legal aid, and support. The experience opened my eyes to a lot of the systemic inequalities that limit and disenfranchise those living in poverty. Above all, the experience inspired me to pursue a career in social work and helped me refine my passion for working with others.
Any advice you would give students about how to get the most out of their education?
Education is not something to be taken lightly. No one can ever take your education away from you. No one. Understanding the gravity of that realization is sobering, inciting, and liberating, because it means you will never be the same person you once were after getting an education. In the end, if you want to make the most of your college experience, discover and remember why you went to school and how, through your education, you have the power and responsibility to question and shape the future. Trust me—getting up for that 8:15 is a lot easier if you remember that the future is at stake.
What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?
In 10 years from now, when I’m 31 years young, I hope to be in the midst of raising a family in Chicago while working full-time as a social worker and adjunct professor at a university. I would love to be established in my particular field of social work and be in the process of laying down the groundwork to shift into public policy work or pursue a doctorate degree in the philosophy of social work.
Who are your favorite writers?
So many, but if I had to pick I’d say Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Which living person do you most admire?
My father, because I’m only just starting to grasp the depths of his love and sacrifice for our family. He left Pakistan—twice—to build a better future for himself, my mother, and my sister. He gave up the status his education afforded him in Pakistan and accepted a blue-collar position here. When he first came here he worked three jobs, and he still has the same work mentality today. I am never grateful enough, but I do deeply admire him for the tough choices he made for himself—and the choices he made for us.
About the Medallion
Leadership. Scholarship. Service.
Those three words are etched onto the President’s Medallion that Loyola awards annually to its most outstanding students. They are words that neatly summarize all that the University represents. And they also sum up the 2013–14 President’s Medallion recipients—students who excel not only in the classroom, but also in the world, and are dedicated to helping those around them.
“Each of the recipients was recommended for this award by their academic dean because they exemplify a wonderful combination of achievement in scholarship, leadership, and service,” said Dean of Students Jane Neufeld at the annual President’s Ball at the end of the fall semester.
“In addition, they are seen as persons of integrity, good reputation, and manifest leadership in serving others,” Neufeld said. “In short, they are students for which Loyola and its founders can take great pride.”