Outgoing Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) President Dahlia M. Taha Reflects on a year in Office and Her Aggie Journey
By Rob Dixon
Dahlia M. Taha was born and raised in Los Angeles. A second-generation American whose parents immigrated from Jordan, Taha describes herself as a through and through Angelino. “L.A.’s an international, melting pot city. My mother and siblings still live there. For undergrad I went to the University of California, Irvine. The LA area is home,” she says.
Yet, after two years in College Station (Taha graduated this spring with a master’s in public service and administration from the Bush School), she is a proud Texas Aggie, excited to be forever a part of the Aggie family and network.
Path to Aggieland
So she began considering graduate programs. At that point, Texas A&M wasn’t on her radar. Her family and friends assumed she would choose local USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.
“USC has an outstanding public policy program,” Taha said, “and it’s just 15 minutes from my house.”
But in doing research, she happened across a thread on social media about the Bush School and began looking into its master’s in public administration program.
“I was immediately attracted to George H.W. Bush’s mission for public service – that the noble calling is to give back to the communities you’re working in,” Taha said. “The more research I did about the program and Texas A&M more broadly, the more I was impressed by the university’s academic excellence and drawn to its strong community and values.
She applied to – and was accepted by – both Texas A&M and USC, but chose to make the move to Aggieland, despite her mother’s initial apprehension.
“I told her about the Aggie core values and how important they were to me,” Taha said. “She could relate to how I was feeling. She had once been in a similar situation, making the choice to leave home as a young adult to come to the U.S. and chase the American dream. She could also relate to my motivation to serve. She created and manages her very own newspaper, called Al-Enteshar, to keep Arab-Americans in southern California informed about what’s going on in the middle east. She has always instilled in me the values of advocacy and selfless service and taught me that all it takes is one voice to change the world. She understands my independence because I got it from her. And once she understood the reasons I chose Texas A&M, she was behind me 100%.”
Her friends had a bit more trouble processing Taha’s move. “They would say things like ‘You’re an Arab-American from California; you can’t live in Texas,’” Taha said. “They were worried for me. But I’ve found that people are just people despite where they come from or what they believe, and the people I’ve met here have been genuinely kind and curious. I’ve become a part of a beautiful community of friends and colleagues at the Bush School, in the GPSG, the Grad School, upper administration, and all over campus. I’m more culturally competent. I’ve seen firsthand that having different life experiences and being from different places doesn’t have to be a barrier; it’s enriching personally and professionally – and having people with differences at the same table helps generate new ideas and solutions.”
Taha has also thrived and grown in her program in the ways she had hoped, developing both her intellect and skills and expanding her knowledge base.
“My program has been fantastic,” she said. “I knew what I wanted to do and why when I got here; now I know how. From amazing faculty like Dr. Deborah Kerr and my fellow students, I’ve gained knowledge and learned skills in policy making and analysis, program evaluation, budgeting and grants. I know I’m ready now to apply those skills.”
“My first year I was involved in the Bush School graduate association and served as the master’s in public administration academic affairs liaison. Essentially, I brought student issues to our department head, Dr. Lori Taylor. We worked together on a number of initiatives. I also volunteered and served as fellow and non-voting board member with the American Red Cross. From those experiences, I thought, ‘I can do this on a larger scale,’ and that’s how I got the idea of running for GPSG president.”
She ran a solid campaign, with much support from her Bush School program cohort, and won. And she says the experience has been an education in itself.
“Here I am, far away from home with all these aspirations to become an administrative leader in service to the greater good, and I find myself suddenly sitting at the table with administrators at the highest level from the nation’s largest public university: President Banks, General Ramirez, Mr. Greg Hartman, Dr. Fuhui Tong in the Grad School and Dr. Stefanie Baker in Student Life. They all made me feel welcomed, mentored me through the processes, and made it clear that they valued my input as the voice of graduate and professional students. It was empowering and I am grateful to not only have had that experience for myself, but to have gotten so much accomplished for our graduate community, continuing the work of my predecessors and laying the groundwork on so many new initiatives for my successors.”
Among the accomplishments of which Taha is most proud is working with Transportation Services to install an additional bus stop at a location near where a large proportion of international graduate students live.
"We had been hearing a lot from international grad students that there was no convenient or efficient way for them to travel between their neighborhood, campus and community services like grocery stores and restaurants,” Taha said. “We looked into it and worked to add a stop on the Old Army route for an easier connection between the Texas A&M and Brazos Transit District bus systems. This new stop will be just north of Sulphur Springs, where there are newly improved sidewalks and a protected crosswalk for safe crossing at the intersection. It provides a convenient and safe connection for passengers needing to use both systems.”
Other highlights of her tenure include bringing Grad Camp to the School of Law in Fort Worth and advocating to designate more lactation rooms around campus for grad students who are parents. She describes the focus that has driven her efforts this past year as a desire to “build bridges and expanding support.”
In addition to the policy and programming changes Taha spearheaded, the GPSG also made administrative changes. “We created two new positions: Vice President for Culture and Inclusivity and the International Student Affairs liaison,” Taha said. “I’m a big advocate for international graduate students. A quarter of our graduate students are international. They’re in a new place and away from what’s familiar to them. I know the university welcomes excellent students no matter where they come from. It's crucial that we have programming that demonstrates that welcoming spirit.”
The FutureTaha sees her work as GPSG president to be interconnected to both her predecessors and successors and hopes that her time in the office can ultimately encourage more graduate students to get involved in self-advocacy.
“Student governments need continuity from one administration to the next to bring positive changes to our university. For major goals like increasing assistantship stipends, it takes years to get buy-in and then implement something new. We are all part of a process, which requires working together when you’re in office and then through transitions to new leadership.”
To accomplish some long-term goals for graduate and professional students, Taha would like to see more graduate student engagement.
“Graduate students are more confined to their programs, departments, and colleges than undergraduates. This can make grad students less likely to get involved in the bigger issues that affect other colleges and schools. But imagine if every grad student on this campus came together to advocate for each other. That’s the vision of the GPSG. If I could pass on one last message to graduate students, it’s to get involved. You play an important role in the success of the university, in teaching and research and many other ways. You should make sure you have a voice in leadership.”
As for her own future, she plans to get some work experience in the non-profit sector in fundraising and return to graduate school in a few years to pursue a doctorate in global health and policy.
“I left Los Angeles to come to Texas A&M and find myself and what I was meant to do. I’ve accomplished that and so much more,” Taha said. “I’ve learned, made connections, and grown as a woman and leader. That’s my Aggie journey and I’m excited to keep building on it.”
GPSG President-elect Hannah Payne, a master’s student studying occupational health and safety in the School of Public Health, begins her term in office on June 1. For information about the GPSG or to get involved, visit https://gpsg.tamu.edu.