17-year-old experiences being President of Laurier for a day through Girls Belong Here initiative

Photo by Luke Sarazin

In honour of International Day of the Girl, 17-year-old Muneeza Sheikh was selected and paired up with Deborah MacLatchy, president of Wilfrid Laurier University, to participate in Plan International Canada’s Girls Belong Here Initiative.

The initiative allows girls to learn from individuals in leadership roles by having them “take over” their dream job for the day.

Plan International Canada created the initiative in order to inspire and empower girls while addressing the prevalent issue regarding the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and leadership.

Sheikh was one of 17 girls across Canada and almost 500 girls throughout the world in 60 countries who got an inside look into leadership roles. Many of these roles being positions in which girls and women may be under-represented in some cases.

Although Laurier was one of the only Canadian post-secondary institutions to take part, MacLatchy was amongst various other Canadian leaders who shared their roles, including Prime-Minister Justin Trudeau.

Other leadership mentors included Cheryl Hickey, host of Entertainment Tonight Canada and Pamela Alexander, CEO of Re/Max Canada.

Sheikh’s aspirations and passion for science aligned perfectly with the research which MacLatchy has undertaken.

“I think we know that it’s really important for girls and young women that they actually see role models and have mentors and that there are pathways provided to them to leadership roles in whatever area they want to be, whether it’s in science or arts or business, whatever it might be,” MacLatchy said.

“It’s really important to me that I participate, even in this way.”

MacLatchy also added that she was also proud to be able to show-off Laurier throughout the day. Some of Laurier’s top leadership roles, such as president, chancellor and board of governors chair, are currently held by women, further confirming Laurier’s focus on diversity and equity.

“Today has allowed us to explore all different avenues of Laurier from the graduate student interests, to undergraduate interests, research, multi campus, etc.,” she said.

“I think that girls should definitely understand that they shouldn’t feel alienated or embarrassed simply because they want to pursue the dream job that they want to do.”

As part of her day as President of Laurier, Sheikh was able to sit in on meetings and take part in a tour of the labs at Laurier’s Centre for Cold Regions and Water Science, among other activities.

“I’ve definitely [been able] to see the amazing work that Deborah MacLatchy has done, as well as the graduate students at Laurier, and it’s amazing to see their work in action,” Sheikh said.

Sheikh and MacLatchy also sat down with Bardish Chagger, Waterloo MP and Minister of Small Business and Tourism, for a lunch meeting later in the day at Veritas Cafe.

“It’s about taking those opportunities; and that’s why Muneeza has done so well,” Chagger said.

“She’s taken the opportunity to be a leader in her local institution and to really take a chance and apply for a program like this. To have president MacLatchy making herself available … creates really great opportunities.”

Chagger also reiterated the importantance of programs such as the Girls Belong Here initiative because of their empowering and inspiring nature.

“What we talk about in the house of commons is taking your place; because we belong, women belong everywhere and people belong everywhere. Our Prime-Minister, Justin Trudeau, always says ‘better is always possible’, programs like this allow for that betterment to take place,” Chagger said.

“It’s recognizing that people are people, regardless of what you’ve accomplished and why you’re doing it, you’re all doing it for the right reasons.”

For Sheikh, her day as President reiterated and confirmed her passion and ambition to pursue a career in science.

“I think that girls should definitely understand that they shouldn’t feel alienated or embarrassed simply because they want to pursue the dream job that they want to do,” Sheikh said.

“Girls really, truly belong in their dream jobs if they have the passion and drive for it.”

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