Syed talks how to develop student human capital


Amasa Smith

Dr. Wasif Syed, the founder and chief executive officer of Ivy League Advisor, spoke to students about personal development and reaching their academic and life goals at the Gladys Mullenix Black Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 18.

One of The Huffington Post’s five people inspiring peace, Wasif Syed spoke to Allegheny students on Tuesday, Nov. 18. Syed, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ivy League Advisor, hosted a workshop and spoke to students in the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts about how best to develop a student’s human capital.

Syed was first introduced to the college by Allegheny Student Government Senator Pat DiFrancesco, ’15. DiFrancesco considered Syed’s background to fit well with Allegheny’s slogan of unusual combinations. Syed’s doctorate is in applied physics from Cornell University and he worked as a petrophysicist at Shell before conducting policy work at the RAND corporation. While at RAND, Syed focused on international relations, Middle East issues, big data, entrepreneurship, international security, energy policy and defense policy.

“I met him while working an event this summer for my job in D.C.,” DiFrancesco said. “I set up an event for him to give a presentation to a group of students from different colleges and universities all over the country…So I talked to him about Allegheny and told him a little bit about what we’re doing, what we believe in.”

Syed waived his speaking fee to come to Allegheny, according to DiFrancesco.

Syed is passionate about educational and leadership mentorship, or as he calls it, human capital development. His firm does that through three pillars of leadership, mentorship and growth and development for students across the world. Syed has more than 10 years of education experience and leadership strategy consulting.

“The focus is that in any ecosystem that I go to, I define ecosystem as an environment whether it’s a school, college, a company, a government, the idea is how do you uplift the collective potential of the individuals there to help them achieve greater aspirations, greater goals,” Syed said.

For Syed’s discussion, he used an example of a can of soup. That if a student represents a can of soup and a consumer represents a potential employer, graduate school, medical school, law school, etc., the consumer first picks up and buys a can based on its aesthetics. Syed defined the aesthetics as the résumé, the things that initially attract the employer or graduate school to a candidate. But what keeps the potential employer or graduate school coming back for more “soup” is the quality of the the “soup.” This metaphor Syed uses, he believes, is universal to his students no matter where they come from.

Syed believes the most important part of his talk is the idea that everyone needs a coach. No matter how young or how old, to be successful a person needs a mentor. He used the example of Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google Inc., who upon arriving at the company in 2001, was told that he needed someone to mentor him. Syed presented a video in which both Bill Gates and Schmidt stressed the importance a mentor or coach has in a person’s professional and personal life.

Just coming from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where Syed spoke to students, he believes that Allegheny specifically has a lot of untapped potential. According to Syed, comfort is the end-all and it takes a leader who has a vision of constantly improving to continue to grow and prosper.

“You have to have the humility to recognize that comfort is the kiss of death, that there is always room for improvement” Syed said. “I had the pleasure of meeting your president, President Mullen, this morning and he struck me as someone who is also a visionary and is very open minded to bring additional perspectives to campus.”

Jim Fitch, director of career education, believes that much of what Syed had to say models the type of connections the school is trying to build in the Allegheny Gateway.

“His talking about building a platform, making these connections and being able to articulate one’s story is what we’re trying to do as we work with students to expand the learning that’s taking place, to integrate their experiences, curricular and co-curricular, and then to apply them as they’re stepping forward from Allegheny,” Fitch said.