Five Minutes With … Mouzon Siddiqi
Mouzon Siddiqi has participated and thrived in international relations from Alabama to Afghanistan. Most of that time and effort have been on the Vanderbilt campus, where she serves as program coordinator for the Graduate Program in Economic Development (GPED). She and her husband, Sultan Siddiqi, MA’70, have served as ambassadors to incoming international students for 35 years. In 2009, the university recognized her contributions with the Commodore Award, Vanderbilt’s highest staff honor, which recognizes and rewards individuals who have made exceptional performance contributions to the university.
What are your duties with GPED?
I work with admissions, assist students with housing, and coordinate tutors and help sessions. During the year, I follow students’ progress and assist in planning their schedules to ensure their timely graduation. I am on call for anything and everything. All the students have my cell and home phone numbers and know that they may call at any time—day, night or weekend—if they are worried about something, need help or just want to talk.
I work with sponsoring agencies (including foreign government sponsors) and manage the office and student aid budgets. I assist the program director with whatever is needed, including drafting remarks for various occasions and writing letters for students for visa purposes, to bring families and so forth.
Much of my time is devoted to email with prospective students—encouraging strong students to join our program and answering a myriad of questions. I also correspond frequently with alumni, assisting them with requests for transcripts, reference letters, alumni information and the like.
You met your husband while he was a grad student at Peabody?
Yes. Sultan enrolled in M.A. study at Peabody in 1968—the same time I came to Scarritt as a junior. At that time, Scarritt was a senior college and graduate school. Students at Vanderbilt, Peabody or Scarritt could enroll in courses at any of the other two schools. I took several courses at Peabody and Sultan studied English at Scarritt. We met in December 1968 at a Christmas dance at Scarritt. He asked me out the following night for dinner. We dated two years, graduated, married in my hometown of Centre, Ala., and left for Afghanistan for two years.
Back then, people who married an American could immediately change their status to permanent resident and then U.S. citizen, but we never considered the option of not returning to Afghanistan. People in my hometown (population 2,500) were worried about my living halfway across the world, but I viewed moving to Kabul as the biggest adventure of my life—and I was right! It was wonderful! The country was so peaceful then—a beautiful place with beautiful people.
What brought you to the College of Arts and Science?
When we returned to the U.S., I found a job with a large sales company where I worked for two years. I soon knew that I wanted to be back in an academic environment where people are more diverse, generally have different priorities and are respected for their individuality. I started to work at Vanderbilt in January 1975 and quickly realized this was the place I wanted to be.
Tell us about your interaction with international students.
I love meeting students at the airport when they arrive. I look forward to seeing the students’ faces for the first time and welcoming them to Nashville and to Vanderbilt. Our staff and second-year students help the new students settle in. We use my pickup truck to help students furnish their apartments [with] purchases from places like Wal-Mart, secondhand stores and the Vanderbilt surplus store.
“I love meeting students at the airport when they arrive. I look forward to seeing the students’ faces for the first time and welcoming them to Nashville and to Vanderbilt.”
Our office has quarterly birthday parties to celebrate students’ birthdays, a fall picnic, a Valentine’s party and a celebration for student employee appreciation week. We invite students over to our house whenever we can manage it. They know that they are always welcome. Our office strives to be a very friendly, welcoming place. It not only is a place for students to come for assistance, but a place to study and hang out. If we don’t see students for a few days—maybe a week or so—we check to make sure they are okay.
My husband helps students buy cars and assists the Muslim students in finding places that sell halal meat [adhering to Islamic dietary practices]. He also cooks halal meat for the awards dinner in the spring.
How does it feel to be the 2009 recipient of the Commodore Award?
I was overwhelmed and humbled. There are so, so many deserving employees. I never imagined I would receive this award! It is the greatest honor I could ever have. I will always cherish the award, but most of all, the wonderful, unselfish and thoughtful people, with whom I work, who made this possible.
What activities do you enjoy outside of work?
I like having a garden (although my husband does all the work) and I love to swim. In the fall, I am a football junkie. My dad played for the University of Alabama and football is in my blood.
My husband and I spend many weekends in Atlanta with our daughter, son-in-law and our two grandsons (ages 6 and 2)—the delight of our lives. We also enjoy spending lots of time with our Afghan family and friends in Nashville. Aside from family gatherings, I would have to say the most fun I have is hanging out with my GPED family. It keeps me young!
photo credit: John Russell