This story is the first in a series of profiles for Penn State international students. This series was created for the Penn State Global Newsletter, which includes updates, information, and stories about Penn State global activities. To subscribe to the quarterly newsletter, click here: https://global.psu.edu/content/newsletter
For Penn State alumnus Uzair Qadeer, there was never really any question of whether he would make a global living. From his childhood in Pakistan, to his emigration to America, to his time in Penn State and through his career, Qadeers life has always put him in very global contexts.
Qadeer currently is chief diversity officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc., where he has been employed since February 2019. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, but has also lived and worked in New York City, Rome, Seattle and London. He is active with the Penn State alumni community. This is his story.
Qadeer was born in Lahore, Pakistan, into a family that took diversity and inclusion values seriously. From a very young age, his parents forced him to look at the world from different angles and even at one point enrolled him in a Catholic school to give him an early life opportunity to immerse himself in diversity. It was during these formative years that Qadeer learned about the challenges faced by the Pakistani Catholic minority, even though he was not a Catholic himself.
This experience taught me to see the world through the eyes of a minority, to feel bad about their battles, and I appreciate this experience for igniting the flames of my eternal passion to see everyone treated fairly, Qadeer explained. It became clear to me that it is our responsibility, one that we can probably not ignore, to exercise our voices in the service of those who have remained unheard.
The Qadeers family emigrated to the United States and settled on the outskirts of Philadelphia. It was a really interesting time for us that I loved this time, really, Qadeer said. We were left on the shores of this country and had an opportunity to build better lives.
No immigration story is easy, but for the Qadeers, they came to the country against the backdrop of 9/11 and a widespread anti-Muslim sentiment. We have definitely faced discrimination, Qadeer recalls. We spent years fighting for minority rights in Pakistan and then became minorities ourselves.
He said he appreciates this experience for encouraging his unwavering passion for human rights and social justice. He also considers this time a moment of personal transformation and a new beginning in his life. It was our time in Philadelphia that paved the way for our family to touch and feel the American Dream and build a meaningful life in this new home, he said.
Penn State education and experience
Qadeer has deeply passionate and positive reflections of his time at Penn State.
I completed two degrees, three minors and later received a master’s degree from Penn State, he said. I have been involved in all sorts of activities, clubs and other extracurricular activities. It was truly a life-changing experience.
He received bachelor’s degrees in both industrial engineering and liberal arts, with a minor in business, product realization and history. He later returned to Penn State for a master’s degree from Smeal College of Business.
I had the ability to see the University from multiple angles, he said. Many times students appear in their main subject. I was lucky enough to get a wider view, and perhaps a more holistic one.
In addition to academics, Qadeer also immersed himself in extracurricular teaching, often taking leadership positions. He founded and acted as president of the First International Awareness Club, a group of students from dozens of countries who came together and filmed news segments on global issues. He would eventually receive the notable LaMarr Kopp Student Student award for creating this club. He was also elected president of the student government and helped organize the first Diversity Summit in Penn State.
Having those leadership experiences, they teach you things you do not understand until later in life, he said. For example, because I had to campaign for student government, I overcame any concerns I might have had to speak in front of people. Now, I can attend a news segment, sit down for an interview, or speak in front of a crowd, and I’m not nervous even smaller than I actually love it.
Despite his already global education, Qadeer trusts Penn State to really open its eyes to the world.
It was the first place I could actually settle into such a diverse and global community, he said. I went to different religious services, I talked to people from different backgrounds, I learned about different cultures and norms. It was the first place I tried such a variety of thoughts and I loved it. I made many lifelong friends from all over the world while I was in Penn State.
Prior to taking up his current role as Chief Diversity Officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Qadeer served as Vice President, Head of Enterprise Partnership, helping Alexion further build transformational skills in executive training, human resource business partnerships, and planning. workforce and organizational strategies, while the companies formed the preliminary strategy of diversity, inclusion and affiliation (DI&B).
Prior to joining Alexion in February 2019, Qadeer worked in increasingly responsible roles in Deloittes Human Capital counseling practice where he advised clients across industries and geographies on future human capital topics, including talent management, development organizational and modeling, human resource management, and DI&B. Prior to that, Qadeer worked at the Bristol Myers Squibb Company, migrating to Rome, Italy, to provide a global job while gaining knowledge about diversity and inclusion in an international context. Furthermore, Qadeer served as an MBA Assistant Professor at Rutgers, New Jersey State University.
While he has lived all over the country and internationally, moving to Rome, Italy, with Bristol Myers Squibb is one of his most beloved experiences.
Rome taught me that home is not where you were born or where you live, it is your soul that comes alive, he said. The Italian tendency for extroversion Did you know that there is really no such thing as privacy in traditional Italian? he observed that it fit perfectly with the curiosity, extremism and thirst of Qadeers himself for human connection.
Throughout this career journey, it became increasingly clear to Qadeer that his passion lay in helping other people.
My life is driven by my unique goal of freeing people, he said. When you are free, believe, drink innovation, think clearly. When you are free, anything is possible.
Leadership of thought
Qadeer spends considerable time working and training c-suite and senior leader. When talking to leaders, Qadeer explained that he always talks about three areas: style resilience, nonconformism, and goal discovery.
Style resilience is about discovering your own leadership style, but also recognizing the work style of others and building the ability to meet them where they are. Nonconformity has to do with breaking bad rules, Qadeer said. This was a central theme in his keynote address at the Penn State Global Career Institute in early March, one of the last pre-COVID events held at the University. In that presentation, Qadeer gave the example of an Italian train station.
In southern Italy, people often do not form a line at the train station, Qadeer said. Lines and queues are accepted realities here in the US you are served according to the order in which you arrive. It’s a social norm.
In Italy, however, the context of buying a train ticket becomes much more dynamic. People walk in front of each other and rider for position. Instead of automatically piloting to stay in line, people should constantly decide how they will engage with the process.
Do I have two minutes? Well, I have to try to pave the way for some people to get my ticket on time, he pointed out. Or maybe I have 10 and can take a walk first. It’s a small example, but it illustrates the idea of looking at the same situation through a new lens every day.
“When you do that,” Qadeer said, “you get involved in an act of constantly looking at common situations from divisive angles.”
For a few years, no one would care if you could code a program or process data or make a web page. All this will be automated. Therefore, what I think we should all be interested in is what can humans do that computers, robots and AI cannot? “Tha ai.” And these are the skills we need to cultivate soft skills, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills. The future has to do with nonconformism. Well reimagine the usual activities and use dramatically different skills to succeed. Once we begin to see things not as they were, but as they may be, we can change the world.
Vision for the future
Qadeer is a man of many thoughts. He feels that his life experiences, both personally and professionally, have given him a unique perspective on the world and considerable expertise on the topic of human capital.
The only constant is change, he said. Its cliché, but it ‘s true. In our interconnected world, change is inevitable. It is up to you, me, all of us to decide whether to take a role in shaping change, or to sit back until it happens?
“The biggest thing for Penn State is the collective strength of its massive alumni network,” Qadeer said. To mention a few things, Penn State had the first industrial engineering program, developed the first surgically implantable heart pump; is responsible for many scientific advances around the world, and being part of such a fantastic institution is humble.
“I feel a sense of pride but also a sense of responsibility to continue that legacy to make a positive impact on the world, to add to the collective change that the Penn State community has made and continues to make,” he said.
One of Qadeer’s favorite quotes is from former US President John F. Kennedy One person can make a difference and everyone should try.
That’s the soul of being a Penn Stater, to me, Qadeer said. Any of us can make a positive difference, and we can all try. And with the mammoth size of our alumni network, when we free ourselves to do so, we build a better tomorrow.
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