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Rubina Azizdin: A REAL force of empowerment

By Sarayuth Pinthong

Knightly News Reporter

Rubina Azizdin, 35, founder of the Relationships, Empowerment, Authenticity, Laughter (REAL) networking group, continues to share her ethics and dealings with adversities that have made her an empowering female force in the Central Pennsylvania, and the Central Penn, community.

It doesn’t take much to find accolades recognizing Azizdin’s accomplishments throughout her life. Last year, she received the 2017 Shining Star Award from the West Shore Chamber of Commerce as part of its Luminary Awards, created by the Women in Business Roundtable Committee. She has been honored at least twice this year

Her background reveals connection with the Junior Board at the YWCA, West Shore Young Professionals, Central Pennsylvania Association of Female Executives, American Business Association, Board of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Employers, and finally, Women’s Capital Area Networking, and that’s not all.

But to truly understand how Azizdin’s drive, determination and will contribute to her success, despite the obstacles, you must go back to where it all began.

The beginning

Rubina Azizdin, born Rubina Keval in Central Pa., is the oldest of four children. Growing up, Azizdin and her family would visit relatives in Africa. Her parents, Akbar Keval (father), from Ethiopia, and Ruksana (mother), from Kenya, traveled to the United States for their honeymoon.

Azizdin’s father was not formally educated, but very business-oriented. He was a very good mechanic and decided that moving to America would present better opportunities for his wife and future family.

Keval relocated himself and his wife from Africa to Canada, and finally, to the United States, bringing with him only $800. Years passed as Keval worked odd jobs, receiving money under the table to support his family. Keval worked on a farm picking tomatoes, fixed cars, and finally, after receiving his green card, started building his business.

Keval did really well for himself despite not having graduated from high school.  He owned several businesses, ranging from cleaners to a car dealership.  He came to America around the age of 30 and was able to retire at the age of 60 because of the empire he created. He and Ruksana returned to Africa for retirement.

Keeping culture

Azizdin was born in Elizabethtown. Along with her siblings, she was raised embracing the cultures of India and Pakistan. Growing up as a dual-cultured individual, Azizdin witnessed division, being Indian, and not being Pakistani.

She said many Muslims in Central Pennsylvania are Pakistani. Growing up, Azizdin didn’t have the day-to-day exposure to diversity.

“I’ve always been attracted to diversity,” Azizdin said.

The small community of Elizabethtown didn’t allow for exposure to the culture and diversity she longed for. As a child, Azizdin loved the frequent visits back to Kenya. She wasn’t seeing only friends and family, but was also finally exposed to the people who were missing in her daily life back in Elizabethtown.

“People usually gravitate to what they’re used to,” Azizdin said. “With me, it was with what I couldn’t have. I craved it and I still do.”

Azizdin loves her culture.

“My culture is my world, consisting of a blend of everything: African, Pakistani, Indian, and Ethiopian.”

Growing up, Azizdin wasn’t permitted to speak English at home. Her father didn’t want his children to lose the language and culture that comes with being who they were as people. Their language of Kutchi is rare and the one thing Keval wanted to maintain for his family.

Azizdin didn’t understand what her dad was trying to instill in the children. Now, with three children of her own, she understands completely. She teaches her children that they will speak their language because “it’s your language.”

Azizdin believes the challenges she has faced growing up allowed her to love diversity. It gave her the ability to relate to different people while embracing the culture they, as individuals, bring.

“I feel when you have cultural diversity, you tend to be a more open-minded person,” Azizdin said. ­­

Her career dreams always consisted of working in higher education, but her road to a career in that field was full of turns.

Azizdin grew up in a strict home. When she went to college, she derailed and started down a different path. Fortunately, she had people who pushed her back on track. She appreciated the people who assisted her and saw the benefits of wanting to help other people the same way.

Unfortunately, Azizdin said, her father didn’t have the same vision. He envisioned a career in medicine or science for his daughter. Azizdin explained that from her father’s perspective and her culture, success wasn’t reached by being a counselor. It was going into a program like science, engineering or medicine that would bring in the money. That was success.

So began her travels down Academic Lane toward success. She explored being a pharmacist because that’s what her father wanted, but didn’t like it. While figuring out her career path, Azizdin got engaged to her now-husband, Arfaat.

Building another dream

Arfaat left Kenya to attend Harrisburg Area Community College with Rubina.  She later decided to apply to the occupation therapy program at Elizabethtown College and Arfaat applied to the physical therapy assistant program at Central Penn College.  But, during her last two years in the program, Azizdin discovered she didn’t want to be an occupational therapist. Her true calling was working in mental health.

She graduated from Elizabethtown College with a bachelor’s degree in health, and started her master’s degree in counseling and human services. Later, she accepted a family counselor job at WellSpan Philhaven, where she still works after 10 years.

While working with WellSpan Philhaven, Azizdin was able to network with different people and organizations. She was able to meet with families during crisis intervention, and people in homeless shelters, churches, schools and other places where caregivers were needed.

“It was a blessing,” Azizdin said. “It was everything that I loved.”

Azizdin’s career led her to a part-time position at Penn State Harrisburg in career counseling, later to a career services position at Harrisburg Area Community College and then to her current position as a career counselor with Central Penn.

Azizdin wants to prove to women, reflecting on her culture, that they come from the same background, that a woman can be an educated, powerful and respected force in society.

“Just because your husband or your father has a view of you being unequal, that doesn’t mean that you can’t break out,” Azizdin said.

Azizdin witnessed many people being treated in a way she believed was unfair — even her friends. They had their freedom, she said, but at the same time, they didn’t. Some female students of Central Penn, for instance, may not yet understand how to be a powerful woman. Azizdin’s passion for informing other women comes from her experience as a young minority woman.

Getting REAL

This passion of Azizdin’s led her to create the REAL networking group. She decided to make the group women-centered because of conversations among women she heard in the Harrisburg area.

What came out of the conversations was the lack of connections being created. Relationships were superficial. After being approached by many women regarding similar concerns, Azizdin developed the REAL networking group.

The group is a nonbusiness-based one in which everyone is neutral. Members are able to discuss topics, build one another up and support one another, creating the sense of community that goes back to traditional values that are being lost, Azizdin explained.

The group has a Facebook presence of about 300 members and around 20 people attend a monthly Monday meeting, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., to have lunch, hear guest speakers and participate in empowerment activities.

Azizdin imagines the groups she’s involved with, like REAL, sustaining themselves within the community. Developing a strong local community is the goal, she said.

“I think charity starts at home.”

Azizdin believes groups should start out small, and build. Help the local people first and see where and how the groups develop.

Despite being a group primarily for women, REAL is open to anyone.

“I’ve never said that men aren’t welcome,” Azizdin said. “It’s just that women gravitate more toward the group.”

Good and bad experiences happen to everyone. Azizdin believes the experiences shape people. It’s just a matter of how people apply the experiences, she said.

“I say grow with your experiences. Without experiences, we can’t be who we are.”

Always look forward to a pleasant and bright future, Azizdin said. How does she do it? It’s a two-part process.

“Surround yourself with supportive people,” she advised. “The other part is self-discipline. You just have to prioritize. If you want to get something done, there’s nothing stopping you.”


To comment on this story, or to suggest one, contact TheKnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.edu.

Edited by media club co-adviser Prof. Michael Lear-Olimpi.

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Central Penn Valedictorian Tells Graduates not to Fear Failure

It is part of becoming a success

Editor’s note: This story is Central Penn 2017 valedictorian Morgan Gerz’s speech to her graduating class, and all others, assembled in the Forum in Harrisburg on May 12 for graduation.

 Morgan Gerz headshotBy Morgan Gerz

Special to the Knightly News

 

Hello.

My name is Morgan Gerz.

I am one of 240 students that are here graduating tonight. And just one of the 400 students that are in our graduating class.

Most of you I have never met, but I do know we have something in common: We are all successful.

I am your class valedictorian, and I am also a failure.

The path to success

I got an F on my term paper in 11th-grade English class.

My senior culminating project in high school was a complete disaster.

I lost the game for my soccer team in the league championship because I missed the final penalty kick in overtime.

I begged my sister to move to California with me, which she did, and then I only lasted eight months because I was homesick.

Central Penn College is actually the fourth college I’ve attended.

I got my associate degree at one, and the other two would make me a two-time college drop-out.

These moments in my life can be called failures, because:

  •  I did not succeed in what I set out to do
  • My performance fell short.
  • Expectations were not met.

What is failure, and what does success mean?

            Failure. It is a lack of success.

            Failure. It is a scary word.

            Failure. It is reality. It is inevitable.

And it is a risk we must take if we ever want to succeed.

History tells us that failure is essential to success.

Great people have embraced failure. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Michael Jordan, Henry Ford – they have all failed.

Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Winston Churchill wisely stated: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Those of you sitting here in your cap and gown risked failure every time you stepped into the classroom, every time you turned in an assignment, every time you took an exam.

You risked failing in order to be where you sit today.

Different paths, same destination

We have all taken a different journey to get here.

When we leave here today, we will all go our separate ways.

But, today our failures have been overtaken by this unique moment in time, because today, we have succeeded. Today, we graduate.

So, class of 2017, congratulations, and I bid you farewell with a challenge. When you depart from Central Penn College and begin your next stage in life, I ask you to remember three Fs. And, no, none of them are failure.

Remember the three Fs

First, don’t forget to have “fun,” because you have most certainly earned it.

Second, be “fierce.” I love this word because it is so powerful. And you now have the power to do things and make a difference. Don’t run from fear, because I believe that having fears and facing those fears are what will ultimately make us stronger.

And third, have “faith” in yourself. Have faith that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, faith that you will overcome failure.

I mean, just take a look around at where we are. That gown you’re wearing? And that tassel hanging down?

That means WE ARE GRADUATES.

And however long it took you, whatever path you took to get here, however many failed attempts it took, what matters in the end – what matters today – is that you did it, you are a graduate.

Congratulations, Central Penn College Class of 2017.

May your successes and accomplishments always be bigger than your failures.

Thank you.


To comment on this story, or to suggest a story, contact the KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.edu.

Edited by Media Club Co-adviser Prof. Michael Lear-Olimpi.

Gerz majored in accounting. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree. The Knightly News thanks her for her contribution to our blog, and wishes her luck in her future endeavors. Photo courtesy of Morgan Gerz.

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