Dr Zeenath Khan was born in Bangladesh to two zoologists who loved and adored nature and wildlife, and instilled their adoration for all things big and small in her and her siblings. Therein began her amazing adventure called childhood. The family moved to the UAE in 1984, first to Al Ain and then to Dubai in 1989. Her parents’ interests and her dad’s work as a wildlife expert always kept them close to animals which also made for amazing playground stories in school.
She went to St Mary’s Catholic High School Dubai, where she completed high school. She went on to complete her Bachelors in Computer Science and then a Masters in International Business, followed by a PhD in Academic Integrity.
Although she thought she would become a medical doctor when she grew up, life had other plans for her. Various experiences inside classrooms, with teachers and other students steered her to a very different path. Zeenath, ended up becoming a university lecturer with a Doctorate in Philosophy in e-Ethics and academic integrity. Currently she is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wollongong in Dubai where she has been teaching for the last 16 years. She has won the Excellence in Teaching award both at the Dubai Campus and the Vice Chancellor’s Award from Wollongong, Australia, along with numerous other awards, for her research and community engagement work. In this issue of Teach Middle East Magazine we get to know a little more about Dr Zeenath Reza Khanand what makes her tick.
Who was your favourite teacher? Why?
When I was in school, my favourite teacher was Mrs Shyamala Sundaram who was my history teacher at St. Mary’s. This teacher was so amazing at inspiring students to think about history, going beyond the text books and figures, to bring history alive inside our classrooms so much so, that History became one of my favourite subjects.
What inspires you most?
Students inspire me. Students are young, energetic. They are the future. Their ideas, thoughts, visions and perspectives on subjects, concepts, life are always noteworthy.
Creativity, innovation and engagement also inspire me.
Creativity of any kind, be it at work, inside classrooms, on the digital space or at home, inspires me to use my creativity to design my courses, and so that I can capture all my students’ attention and engage them.
Giving back to the community is a very big part of who I am and what inspires me. Through a number of community engagement initiatives, I am constantly engaged with schools, students, parents, and the society at large. From looking closely at challenges to girls pursuing STEM education and careers to cyber threats for kids to student cheating, to igniting integrity in academia and engaging with the stakeholders, always inspire me to become better
Share two major challenges that you faced. How did you overcome them?
My first real challenge posed itself in the form of my choosing a career path. Although I had always thought I would become a doctor, when it came down to actually joining, I realised I had the worst case of sympathy pains, which made choosing that path impossible. My father sat me down at 18 years old and made me sign a contract with him – that the decision to not pursue medicine was mine alone and that I would be responsible for my career decisions and how that career panned out. I then enrolled in UOWD, to pursue a Bachelors in Computer Science. Doesn’t seem like much of a challenge, I know. But having to overcome the obstacles of the course and being one of a few girls in a room full of boys was not easy. Here I am, 20 years later, with not only a Bachelor degree, but also pursuing a career in teaching management information systems.
My second biggest challenge reared its head in 2008 when in the span of a month I found out I was pregnant, I received full scholarship to pursue my PhD studies with UOW Australia and I got promoted from teaching assistant to a Lecturer at UOWD. The next six years were a roller-coaster of activities thrown at me from every possible angle of life. Nine years on, I have a happy, engaged 8-year old, a PhD degree with commendation and I am now an Assistant Professor.
What are three key qualities that every leader should possess and why?
Humility, Self-worth, confidence, and the ability to empower others are what true leaders are made of.
We become leaders because of our abilities, skills, and knowledge among other qualities. But I passionately believe that what truly makes a person a good leader is their ability to remain humble through their successes. A leader must understand their own worth and have confidence in their decisions, which comes with certain responsibilities. When the team or project succeeds, the leader acknowledges the efforts of the team and when there is failure, the leader understands he/she is accountable. Finally, a good leader doesn’t just think about his/her own growth but grows with the team, becoming responsible for the progress and development of others through empowerment and without micromanaging.
Share two ways in which the work that you are currently doing positively impacts young people.
A number of initiatives that I have conceptualized have had significant positive impact on the youth and children. One of these is the Tech-G Summer Campthat I run for female students every summer. The workshops are designed are geared towards encouraging engagement by female students with STEAM subjects and interacting with women from STEAM backgrounds, to understand the value of education and career in this field. Another is the Ignite Integrity Campaign, that we have been running since 2012. This campaign is geared towards increasing the awareness of students, teachers and parents of the pitfalls of students engaging in academic misconduct, and the impact this behaviour can have on their careers.
What is one of your proudest achievements to date?
One of my proudest achievements would have to be Mathalon. This is a National-level math competition in the UAE. It is now in its 11thyear. I began this competition as a means to make learning Math fun for my freshmen students, majority of whom came from non-Math backgrounds in high schools. It quickly expanded to include other Math subjects and ultimately opened doors to include primary and secondary school students. Today we see more than 150 students from various schools across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah participate in a high-level competition, winning scholarships and trophies every year. We also run a Teachers Forum on Math, engaging Math teachers from schools to attend a professional development workshop that adds value to their experience of participating in Mathalon as mentors for their teams. This year, we also received the prestigious and competitive Partnership Award at UOWD for the event’s ability to bring together stakeholders.
What are three fun activities that you do to relax and take your mind off work?
I love to read books, and not the digital ones. A printed book that I can hold, turn pages and mark the corner where I stop every day. I spend at least 30 minutes every night reading before I go off to sleep. I read mostly fiction, science, romance or thrillers. When reading, everything and everyone else cease to exist except for the characters in the book, the plot and the story unfolding in the pages. Reading is a great way for me to relax. I also love to catch a good movie that has a gripping storyline, to keep me interested and leaves me thinking about the plot even after the movie is over.