Virginia undergraduate businesswoman selected for $2,000 scholarship
Born and raised in northern Virginia, Ayesha Ahmad is the middle (and tallest) of three daughters born to Pakistani immigrants. Her parents, Imtiaz and Mehr, came to the United States in the late 80s. Ayesha considers herself to be Muslim-American-Pakistani. The Erickson Merkel Foundation considers her to be one of its first Workhorse Scholars.
She is enrolled full-time at the Howard University College of Dentistry and previously graduated from George Mason University. She works full-time at Smiles by Design, a family and cosmetic dentistry practice, and runs her own cupcake business.
Since her early days in school, Ayesha has had a specific goal in mind: to work toward giving others happy, healthy smiles.
“If you were to ask anyone who knows me, they would tell you I’ve talked about wanting to be a dental hygienist since I met them,” Ayesha said, noting that she’s never deviated from that goal, which she’s held since the 7th grade. The goal was sparked by her own experience with braces, and in wanting to alleviate the stress of visiting the dentist and make it a more comfortable process, especially for children.
At a relatively early age she was able to see the intersections of independence and responsibility after a family member became sick. She recalled regularly doing homework in hospital visitor’s lounges with the Disney Channel on in the background.
“It was those years that made me feel the need to become independent quickly,” she said. “If you’ve ever seen how fast medical bills add up, you know how quickly the blood from your face can drain. In a way, my older sister and I were forced to grow up faster than time allowed – after seeing some of the hardships that come with having a sick parent, it reinforced my desire to learn to stand up on my two feet.”
Developing her own independence came quickly and was fostered by the strength of her family. She said that when it came to role models, she never had to look far.
“My parents have always been a huge source of inspiration and motivation for me,” she stated. “Especially my father, who came to the U.S. alone and started a life here from scratch. We all hear stories of people who know hard work and my father is one of them. He put himself through college by way of working three jobs at a time, living with few commodities, and no one to really show him the ropes. I’m grateful to have an example like him for times when I’m struggling with a ‘first world problem.’”
Strong examples from her family helped shape her worldview and work ethic, and helped laid the foundations for her path through work and school. Now, she’s found another mentor, specifically, the “kindest and most helpful dentist, ever” at Smiles by Design in Herndon, Va.
“Dr. Geetika Tahim has motivated me every day to pursue dentistry, and literally taught me everything I know about the field,” Ayesha said. “I’ve gained so much from working under her and hope to be half the health care professional she is. The way she greets and cares for each patient, listens to their concerns and addresses each of them, discusses treatment plans and calms both kids and adults’ nerves about visiting the dentist is remarkable. She is my boss, my mentor, and someone whom I am happy to call a friend.”
She also draws continued inspiration from God and the Koranic lessons of Muhammad.
“His life was one of tremendous lessons and the legacy he left behind is always where I draw inspiration from at any point in my life,” she said. “One part that has been particularly relevant to me as a student these last few years are the supplications he taught us to recite at the beginning and end of each day. Each morning when I wake up, I pray my morning prayer and praise God, seek forgiveness for sins and shortcomings and also supplicate for numerous blessings and protection from calamities. One of the prayers he taught us is for relief from debt, anxiety and sorrow. The translation is as follows, ‘O Allah I seek refuge in You from worry and grief, I seek refuge in You from hopelessness and laziness, I seek refuge in You from miserliness and cowardice and I seek refuge in You from overwhelming debt and from the force of men.’
“Secondly, I never had the opportunity to meet three of my grandparents but there have been a few pieces of advice that have been passed down in my family,” Ayesha continued, referring again to a family tradition of strong work ethic. “My dad has lived by each of the points and now my sisters and I are trying to as well. My grandmother told my father, ‘Son, never shy away from hard work. Secondly, don’t spread your hands out in front of anyone out of need, even if it may be your own brother – only ask God. And third, never look down upon or be arrogant towards where your paycheck may be coming from. Be thankful, no matter how much it may be.’”
Ayesha plans to utilize her support, inspiration and drive to work toward a future where she will be able to give back. She noted that she would like to be able to give back to scholarship-based organizations in the same way that she has received from them in order to help future students. That way, she added, those on a similar path could find aid when they needed it.
Hannah Jungels, a member of the board at the Erickson Merkel Foundation, said Ayesha was the perfect recipient of a scholarship – the type of candidate the foundation aimed to help.
“Ayesha finds unique and innovative ways to pull her funding for college that include the traditional routes, like scholarships, and unconventional routes like starting her own business,” Hannah said. “The efforts she is putting in today will help her pay for college tomorrow and help her to build connections that will have a huge benefit on her life after college.”
Ayesha’s path of work has been steady, although it didn’t quite start as early as her stated 7th grade goal of becoming a dental hygienist. Her first job was during the summer before her junior year of high school, working for AXA Advisors, a Fortune 500 planning company, although she admits that at the time she didn’t quite grasp the significance of “Fortune 500.”
“Looking back, finding a job early on in life was one of the best decisions I made,” Ayesha said. “In doing so I learned how to manage money – even if it wasn’t much – professionalism in writing and communication, and increased work ethic. It was great because when I got to college, I was able to work at least 20-25 hours a week while still going to school full-time and volunteering with many organizations within my community.
“I think many college students fall prey to the idea that because they are in school, they’re ‘busy’ by default which isn’t always the case,” she continued. “The more you push yourself, the more time you will have. I once worked with someone and they shared the following quote that has stuck with me ever since: ‘The people who make the worst use of time are often the first to complain of its shortness.’”
With her background, her personal and professional goals come closer each day. Professionally, she still wants to become a dental hygienist and work with children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Personally, she wants to expand her knowledge base.
“Dental hygiene is a critical segment of preventative care and I want to be part of a team of educated health professionals who work towards decreasing the service gap of dental care in young adults,” she said. “My personal goals include being someone who is well-read. I also want to become fluent in Arabic and fix up my Spanish again. That would make me quadrilingual, which would be pretty awesome.”
Beyond those goals to help others and further her education, she’d like what everyone would probably like to have at least one of: “a matte-finished-chrome-colored-BMW with leather seats and impeccable detailing.” And, of course, raising a family of her own.
To get there she’s come to fully appreciate the value of responsibly handling her finances.
“Mismanaging money can put you in terrible predicaments in regards to your personal and professional life,” she said. “I think it’s paramount for all college students to have a good understanding of the basics of money management and what it means to live within your means from an early age.”
She added that choosing the right school and making sure that expected tuition was in line with your budget were important considerations to make over accepting student loans or caring too much for the prestige of a certain school.
“I think we need more financial literacy on the high school level to prepare students for their future,” she added, noting that her business helped her take more control of her future. “My cupcake business has kept me busy for the past few years. … I began Simply Scrumptious by Ayesha in the hopes to have a few hundred extra dollars on the side for tuition and general college expenses, and I’d never have imagined it to become so fruitful over the years. Looking back, I’ll always think of it as a humble effort to remain debt-free but also use it to encourage others to tap into their talents when money may be tight. You have to wear a lot of hats in life – explore all your options.”
That great attitude toward work, studies, finances and helping out is what made Ayesha Ahmad one of this year’s Workhorse Scholars.