Shamina Merchant carries herself in such a poised way; one who sees her in the Ohio Union — a place she frequents on campus — might think she works as an Office of Student Life administrator, faculty member or professor.
Her confidence comes through in her work as a student representative, evidenced by the nonstop Undergraduate Student Government campaigning she took part in. The poise and hard work paid off.
Merchant won the USG presidency on March 8 with the highest percentage of votes a female candidate for the job has received in known history.
She has a prominent role as the organization’s next leader, but her life outside of USG makes her much more than the group’s president. She is a friend, daughter and community worker.
Often speaking in a hushed tone, with facts about Ohio State or politics spewing out so in-depth the typical student might not know they exist, Merchant operates on a core set of values: pluralism and education.
“I think that there’s something to learn from every person that you meet, no matter what their background is or what they believe,” said Merchant, a third-year in information systems.
With these principles in mind, Merchant plans to go into consulting after graduation, where she can blend her values into a career she is passionate about.
“I don’t know exactly what industry I will be in, but I like that concept of just learning,” she said. “And consulting is the opportunity to be put in industries across the board and different types of problems and be challenged in different ways. “
Merchant does not just talk, she pushes for action.
Like in India, when she worked to help and teach orphaned and impoverished children. Or in Israel, where she pushed herself to understand what might have led to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which allowed for her to interact with native people without bringing negative opinions with her.
During her campaign with Shawn Semmler, a third-year in finance, the duo put a focus on listening to the students’ needs and voices to become better leaders. Merchant works to find understanding, Semmler said, even if it comes with conflict.
“Whenever people disagree with [Merchant], she will stand her ground, but she makes sure you are being heard and does a good job too of keeping an open mind,” Semmler said.
Merchant’s work stretches beyond Ohio State’s campus. She’s worked with a consulting club to reach areas throughout the Columbus community in need, with the goal of giving back and educating people in whatever capacity she could.
The way Merchant leads, with a willingness to hear all sides of any arguments, as well as get to know any group or organization she might not know, sets her apart from the run-of-the-mill leader.
Matt Couch, associate dean of students and a USG adviser, has worked closely with Merchant over the past three years through her roles in USG. The two began meeting early on in Merchant’s college career about how to improve her work as a student representative.
“Shamina always comes into [USG’s] conversations with thoughtful questions that reflect not only her interest in improving the student experience at Ohio State but also her genuine care and concern for people,” Couch said. “More often than not, we wind up discussing strategies for encouraging the hearts of students who are working hard in USG.”
He said Merchant’s empathy helps her as a leader, adding “she is very attuned to the needs of the people she serves.”
Merchant might be unsure of her future, but she is determined to live a life of service.
“I don’t know what I exactly want to do with my life, but I know I want to learn,” Merchant said. ”I know in some capacity I want to try and leave the world a better place than I found it, and that means it’s not about me. It’s about other people.”