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Alumni Spotlight: Gareth Rhodes and Ahsan Sayed

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership
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Alumni Spotlight: Gareth Rhodes and Ahsan Sayed

Gareth Rhodes and Ahsan Sayed, Harvard Law School

This year, Gareth Rhodes, ‘11 and Ahsan Sayed, ’13, entered Harvard Law School. It is no surprise that these two young men have dissimilar academic and professional trajectories: they are among one of the most ethnically, economically, and intellectually diverse alumni pools in the nation. Yet both credit the mentoring they received at the Colin Powell School with putting them on the path they share, leading to one of America's top law schools.

Sayed was born in Bangladesh, but he moved with his family to Sunnyside, Queens when he was seven years old. He links his interest in CCNY to the strong reputation it enjoys within the Bengali immigrant community. “Also,” he says, “my acceptance into Macaulay Honors College allowed me to attend with a full merit scholarship. For my family, not having to pay for my college education was very important.” Sayed began as a double major in political science and biology, but soon earned a Dobrich New Americans’ Fellowship (named after CCNY alumnus and Board of Visitors member Fulvio V. Dobrich) within the larger Colin Powell Leadership Fellows program. After undertaking a pivotal internship in Washington, D.C., Ahsan focused more exclusively on political science. Soon, he was winning multiple departmental awards, and then returned D.C. as an intern with the State Department.

Rhodes, in contrast, is a native New Yorker, having grown up in the Hudson Valley. He worked for a year in a well drilling business after high school, before enrolling in CCNY. Once there, he immediately took advantage of the myriad opportunities on offer at CUNY. On the City College campus, he applied for, and won, a prestigious Colin Powell Leadership Fellowship; that fellowship, one of four managed by what was then the Colin Powell Center, continues to be offered by the Colin Powell School's Office of Student Success. As his interest in politics and the law developed, he also become a member of the inaugural cohort of a new program: the Skadden, Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies.

Preparation for Success

Leadership training is a core mission of the Colin Powell School. The experiences and potential of our student community are in many ways unique and vital resources for a society looking to craft a better and more just future. But those insights need to be clearly formulated, communicated with conviction, and enshrined in a workable plan. Our students, even students like Gareth and Ahsan with tremendous talent and potential, vastly benefit from the support, training, and opportunity to develop those leadership skills, and need preparation to ensure that they will be able to act upon their ideas and dreams.

Sayed says that his experience as a Colin Powell fellow and in his political science coursework helped him approach the world with confidence. He came to understand his experience and perspective—as a “New American,” a first-generation student, and an advocate for his Muslim community— as an asset for him personally, and for collaborative, democracy-building environments from the classroom to the conference room. “This preparation allowed me to dive into law school with a determination and drive I may not have developed otherwise,” he says.  

Rhodes also speaks of the enormous impact that mentorship played in steering him through as an undergraduate, and also points to the strengths of the Skadden program, which he says was “central and critical” in his path to law school. He views classes such as Constitutional Law and Jurisprudence and Public Policy as a kind of ‘boot camp’ where they were given law school-style exams, and provided a real-world preview of what the classroom experience would be as 1Ls. “In my first weeks here at Harvard Law,” he says, “I’ve thought to myself several times ‘This is just like my Skadden class’ and further appreciated the thoroughness and structure of the Skadden, Arps program.”

After Graduation

In 2011, Rhodes was among those selected for a prestigious Harry S. Truman Fellowship. After receiving his degree, he spent four years in Albany, working in the Cuomo Administration as Deputy Press Secretary. Throughout this time, he says, his Skadden Arps mentors—both faculty and lawyers in the firm—provided the advice and support he needed to put together a strong application for law school. 

Andy Rich, director of the Skadden Arps program, confirms that mentoring relationships are the backbone of Skadden’s programming. “The depth of mentoring relationships,” Rich says, “goes beyond program staff to those at the law firm. Susan Plum, the head of the Skadden Fellows program, provided Gareth with substantial assistance during the law school admissions process. And Vaughn Williams (former partner at Skadden and a member of the Powell School Advisory Board) remains a close adviser to Gareth as he begins at Harvard.”

When asked about particularly important mentoring relationships at the Colin Powell School, Sayed points to his relationship with Rajan Menon, Anne and Bernard Spitzer Chair of Political Science. It’s a relationship that began early in his political science education and continued as he directed his efforts toward law school. “I sought his guidance even after graduation,” Sayed says. “His presence has been immensely influential and nurturing on my intellectual, academic, and professional development. I continue to seek his advice, even as I navigate the very different world of law school.”

"I’ve been at CCNY for four years, and without question, he’s one of my best students,” Menon says, citing Sayed's top marks and his seriousness: bringing in dog-eared copies of The Economist to class and always challenging himself by taking the most difficult courses. Not content with his LSAT scores putting him into the 92nd percentile, Sayed took the test again, receiving a score that put him in the 99th percentile. “I can see him putting law to use in public service ways,” Menon says, citing his work as a social justice intern with the Muslim Consultative Network and as program assistant within the Muslim Legal Fund of America.

And so, by entering Harvard Law School, both Sayed and Rhodes have entered a program that has produced some of the most accomplished men and women in this country's history. In so doing, however, they bring with them a new tradition—a tradition of leadership training and support, developed at the City College of New York, the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, and its associated fellowships.