Marion, Iowa, and Rawalpindi, Pakistan are separated by a distance of over 7,000 miles. Mahlia Brown grew up dreaming of a career in human resources, while Farhan Amjad’s interest in technology led him to study computer science with a desire to make his own impact on Silicon Valley. Their paths converged at UNI as the 2020 Lux Service Award recipients.
The award is the most prestigious given by the Office of the Dean of Students each year to honor graduating seniors with a track record of serving others on campus.
Lux is the Latin word for light, and the award is conferred in the spirit of keeping the light of service to others burning brightly at the University of Northern Iowa.
Both Amjad and Brown made their marks serving others in UNI student organizations. Brown, a senior psychology major, was student government diversity director who advocated for minority and underrepresented students. Amjad, a student government senator, also worked with a campus environmental group promoting sustainable practices and environmental equity in the Cedar Valley community.
“The Lux Service Award is the pinnacle award for graduating seniors - it acknowledges their exemplary service, which will leave a lasting legacy at UNI,” said Paula Knudson, vice president for student affairs, in an online ceremony bestowing the awards.
Even though Brown grew up only about 60 miles from Cedar Falls, UNI was only one of the universities she considered after high school. Her mother and grandmother are UNI alumni who encouraged her to visit. Once she set foot on campus, Brown knew she’d be the third generation in her family to attend UNI.
“I felt like I was home,” she said.
Brown discovered that she had a passion for social justice and service as a sophomore and began joining student organizations that allowed her to pursue it. She was involved on campus in the Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG), Black Student Union and Ethnic Student Promoters. She also worked as a resident assistant during her time on campus.
Brown also served as the director of diversity for the NISG, where she acted as an advocate for minority and underrepresented students by utilizing a social justice approach. She was passionate about helping incoming students transition to life on campus and thrive at UNI. Her passion for engaging with them in a meaningful way was why Brown was chosen as a 2020 Lux Award recipient.
When asked about how her time at UNI has helped prepare her for her future career, Brown didn’t hesitate. For her, it was learning to build connections. Through her involvement on campus, she developed the ability to work alongside people from all different levels of campus, from her peers to upper level administration, and unite them in the pursuit of a common goal.
Brown said receiving the Lux prize was an honor, but she didn’t set out to win any awards. “My goal was just to do as much as I could to improve my campus.” Brown said. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in human resources. Her goal is to make workplaces more equitable for workers of all races, genders, ethnicities and orientations.
As an international student from Rawalpindi, Amjad travelled over 7,000 miles to make his impact at UNI. He was interested in studying abroad, and chose to attend after his high school career counselor encouraged him to meet with UNI’s international programs representative. He initially wasn’t sold on the idea, but after the program representative was able to answer every single one of his questions, he made the decision to attend. Amjad chose to major in computer science with a goal of immersing himself in a foreign culture in the process.
“It was about growing as a human being and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.” Amjad said. He wanted to lay the groundwork for future international or marginalized students through his advocacy work in the International Student Promoters, NISG and the Panther Initiative for Environmental Equity and Resilience (PIEER). Amjad was also involved in Student Admissions Ambassadors.
Through PIEER, Amjad traveled to community centers, 15 different area schools, and to campus groups giving informational presentations as an advocate for the importance of an equitable environment. He built strong connections with students, staff and community members as he raised awareness.
Amjad felt the most beneficial result of attending UNI was the culture he was able to experience. “UNI provided me with the platform to meet multiple people from different backgrounds.” Amjad said. “You get to know and empathize with people in a different manner.” He enjoyed the opportunity to grow as a person through the relationships he built with his professors and peers.
After graduating, Amjad plans to move to San Francisco and put the software engineering skills he learned at UNI to work through the development of his own startup business focused on environmental equity.