By Michelle Samson
Aizaz Shaikh, a junior and business management major, is a member of the Four Pillar Society on campus, which serves the Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation and the Alumni Association. The charter organization’s existence is largely unbeknownst to the student body, but their scope of influence runs deep.
Shaikh applied for membership last semester when he received an email for the newly established society that describes itself as “a student leadership program established by the Office of Development and supported by the Office of the President.” Shinieria Bradley, a junior and criminal justice/criminology major, also applied upon learning about the opportunities in the organization, which “stress[es] philanthropy among students, faculty, and staff.”
Keen on networking and campus involvement, both students decided to write the handful of essays required, gathered two recommendations, and subsequently found themselves in an interview. Members attend and volunteer at commencement, groundbreaking ceremonies, alumni association events, presidential dinners, and donor events. Shaikh expressed deep gratitude for attending the Founder’s Dinner in September where he dined with “a recent alum, a Georgia State Assembly representative, a Senator, and the VP of Operations at GGC.”
The opportunity allowed
him to share his personal story with donors, who in turn gain an understanding of the kinds of students attending GGC. These donors “want to help students and that is what Four Pillar [Society] really is about … trying to help students that are different than others but at the same time have the same goal.” Shaikh and his colleagues in the society epitomize a kind of success story that tells donors that “whatever they’re putting their money into, there is something coming out of it.”
Although Four Pillar members are not necessarily deemed responsible for representing the student body like the Student Government Association, Shaikh still holds the student body’s interests at heart when acting as an informal figurehead for students at Four Pillar events. He retells his personal story while networking with influential citizenry with the narrative that he “graduated high school with a 2.75 [grade point average] …and [he] didn’t really know what [he] wanted to do, so [he] ended up enlisting in the Air Force because … [his] dad is a retired Air Force vet.”
He proudly stated that his enlistment date was Feb. 28, 2013. Afterwards, Shaikh started attending GGC and achieved a 4.0 GPA in his first semester and took three core classes (ten credits) in the summer while still upholding his GPA. “If everybody thinks this is difficult and I did this with ease, maybe I do have the potential to maintain a high GPA and still stay involved … GGC gave me the motivation to say, hey, I can still achieve my dreams despite my poor high school career,” said Shaikh.
His comeback story of perseverance appeals to donors and embodies the experiences of young college students, also vying for a place in this world. Students on campus have, however, elicited criticism in response to Four Pillar’s elitism and exclusivity. There are few members and, although not officially representable of the student body, they volunteer at events and interact with the privileged members of society in attendance.
Lili Martinez, a freshman and criminal justice/criminology major, thinks it is seemingly “random to have students represented at major events by people who are not in SGA.” Shaikh acknowledges the “secret-society” aspect of the relatively unknown Four Pillar Society. He also mentions the platform of diversity within the Society, which includes nontraditional, African-American, and Asian students.
The diversity within the organization, Shaikh believes, accurately portrays the diversity overall on campus. Ultimately, Shaikh is gratified being a part of an organization that allows him to connect with other like-minded students and professional elites in his field of interest. Shaikh imagines a promising future, one in which he will successfully pursue politics because of the great networks he has made through the Four Pillar Society.
Bradley has also been offered various internships as a member of Four Pillars. She says her work with the organization keeps her “focused and reminds [her] of how important the student body is to the administration.”