Boldly Lead Student Spotlight: Aesha Desai
It is no surprise that one of the founding members of the President’s Leadership Council (PLC) student organization, Aesha Desai, made a significant impact during their time at Texas Woman’s University. Aesha’s college journey began at TWU in 2018, as a President’s Leadership Council (PLC) scholar. The PLC Scholars Program is named for TWU President and Chancellor Carine Feyten and is designed to give PLC scholars financial support and opportunities to develop as campus leaders.
After serving as a leader on the Denton and Dallas campuses, Aesha will not only graduate from TWU with a degree, but will graduate with a stronger sense of self, self-confidence, and pride. During their time at TWU, Aesha fulfilled the purpose of the PLC scholarship by committing themselves to making a positive impact on campus. They served in numerous leadership roles while at TWU, and most recently helped plan the first annual PLC banquet, where they talked about what being a member of PLC has meant to them.
Aesha shared an inspiring story at the PLC banquet and as part of an interview with the Center for Student Leadership’s BOLD student leader spotlight. During the interview, we asked Aesha a few questions about their leadership journey, and they talked about what they have learned about leadership. Aesha also shared examples about being an advocate, challenging systems, creating safe places for students, spreading kindness, building trust, breaking barriers, and modeling the TWU mantra of campus with a heart.
Below are some highlights from Aesha’s inspiring interview.
What does leadership mean to you?
It is about cultivating kindness. It is about stepping up without taking your ego there. It is about ensuring that your community has all the resources needed to thrive.
Leadership is fun. It is fun to be the boss and make decisions. An important piece of that is knowing when to delegate and know when you are doing something that no longer benefits the whole. It is about collectiveness. We all have to work together.
Tell me about some of your experiences as a leader at TWU.
I have held so many leadership positions on campus. First it was PLC, and while in PLC, Elizabeth Durham really, really, really shaped me into the leader I would become over the next few years. After PLC, I became an orientation leader, which was so fun. I loved talking to first years and getting people acclimated to our environment. TWU is a very specific environment due to the demographics and location of the school. I loved getting them acclimated to Denton. I also loved learning about leadership by working in a team environment with the other orientation leaders. There were a bunch of student leaders, and it was fun bouncing off of each other. In addition to being an orientation leader, I was on the PLC Exec Board.
I was president of Ignite at TWU. Ignite is a nonpartisan political enhancement women’s rights group. We did a lot to encourage people to register to vote. We also broke down some patriarchal barriers we saw in politics. We broke down information so it was consumable to students. It helped me out a lot in learning. It was interesting to learn because that was a totally different realm to be involved in. After Ignite, I was an orientation leader again.
In nursing school, I was a student rep. I got to advocate for the nursing program. Our nursing program is very prestigious in what it does. However, when translated to student affairs, it is very colonial. It is not very up to date on what our generation wants. I have been trying to make nursing school a better place for me and my peers.
After being a student rep, I became president of Student Government. It was fun, but it was a lot of work. It pushed me to be a leader. I had to make sure I was not just focusing on nursing or what I was going through or what my friends were going through. I had to reach out to strangers and talk to students I had not talked to before to make the campus a better place. I had to continue the mantra of “campus with a heart.” That was very important to me as a leader at TWU.
I had a fun achievement. I hosted the first multicultural event on the Dallas campus. It was a South Asian night. We had never had something like that on campus. People still rave about it. It was so cool being able to expose people to my culture. People usually make fun of Indians, and Indian culture is often the butt of jokes. It was nice to be able to tell people that those stereotypes are not true.
After serving as SGA president, I stepped into this role as a program coordinator. People used to come into my office to cry and rant. I am blessed and grateful that I am a safe place for students. They trust me. They still come and talk to me and tell me about their problems. Through my years of leadership, I have learned to create a safe place for students and my peers.
Tell me about some opportunities you have had to develop as a leader? Have you experienced any challenges or obstacles along your leadership path?
Things that have shaped me as a leader have been working with students who don’t look like me or who haven’t had the same life experiences. That was very challenging because I only know my perspective on things. I need to honor experiences of others. It really shaped me to be a better leader. It took blinders off and opened my eyes to a different world.
Leadership at TWU shaped me. Dr. Krauth, Dr. Brown, Dr. Feyten, and Elizabeth Durham all poured into me.
What do you think are the most important traits or characteristics of a leader?
I am very tough, super extrovert and bold. I love confrontation, but I learned that this is not what works every single time. Some people only react to kindness and compassion so I try to cultivate an environment where I am feeding into both parts—being tough and kind.
I think self-confidence is an important leadership trait. If you are not confident in your decisions, your audience will not trust you. You need to be confident in your decisions. Leaders also have to be flexible and adaptable because there are so many things that can go wrong and you also have to work with different people.
Inclusivity is something leaders must have. It is easy to pick your favorites out of the group. You need inclusivity in terms of gender, race, sex and forms of oppression. We need to honor the different personalities and identities that people have and make it an inclusive space for them.
What do you think it means to boldly lead?
To honor the rest of TWU’s mantras—Campus with a heart, Be well, and Health and Wellness initiative, we need to take into account all of TWU’s mantras. It goes with confidence of having empowerment. We need to honor our natural characteristics of being kind and soft, but that does not take away from our ability to lead.
I’m non-binary, but I go to a woman’s university. We need to honor the female perspective and honor that we are kinder and softer. A lot of women and females find it harder to take over a space. Men walk into rooms and automatically take up the space. Boldly leads means to own the space and make it yours.
What are your long-range goals?
I got accepted to Northwestern University for their counseling master’s program. I am stoked because they only take 28 people every year which is like a nine percent acceptance rate. I am blessed and grateful that I got this opportunity. Starting in January, I will be working on getting a master’s and then work as a LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor). I plan on working for a year and then go to get a PhD. I would love to become a psychologist and have my own practice.
The Center for Student Leadership is defining a BOLD Leader as someone who is a Barrier Breaker, Opportunity Creator, Limitless Thinker, and/or Dream Chaser. Which of these letters, if any, do you most identify with and why?
Barrier Breaker for sure. I was told once before, I believe it was Dr. Feyten, that I brought a fresh perspective to leadership here. I changed the way we do things, not because they were done wrong before, but because they did not accommodate everyone.
The CSL would like to thank Aesha for taking the time to participate in this interview and for using their advocacy, compassion, kindness and leadership to create a safe and welcoming space at TWU. Fortunately for TWU, although Aesha is graduating in December, they are currently working in the Office of Student Life on the Dallas campus. Although they will be starting a graduate program at Northwestern in January, since the program is online, they will be able to continue to work for TWU and create a safe and welcoming space for students. We look forward to hearing more about their leadership journey as Aesha continues to break barriers everywhere they go.
Page last updated 12:02 PM, December 19, 2022