February 18, 2019

Transformative Experiences: How Up to Us Prepared Me for My Career – and Life 

Who are the young people behind the Up to Us movement and how has their commitment to raising awareness on the nation’s fiscal challenges impacted their personal and professional lives? Alumni of the Up to Us Campus Competition share how it shaped their collegiate experience and prepared them for their careers.
George Batah, 27, New York, NY, Competition Years: 2013-14


Up to Us team leader, George Batah

When I enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology, I knew I was embarking on a life-changing path. Just weeks before, I had emigrated to the United States from Syria, where the military conflict was at its height. It was a difficult decision but, with my family’s blessing, I transferred from the University of Kalamoon and moved to Chicago, where I began my junior year at IIT in 2013.

I have always loved the United States and have the utmost respect for the people and the history of America. Because of this I knew I had to work hard and put many hours into my study. After all, as a transfer student, I had less than two years to complete my undergraduate degree. I was starting from scratch, in many ways. I knew I had to work twice as hard as my peers to gain the knowledge and skills that I needed to achieve my goals. And I was determined to make the most of my time as a college student. 

As I look back on that time, there were many collegiate experiences that have shaped how I now think about my career and other pursuits, including: serving in student government as an elected representative of the Stuart School of Business; and leading the Undergraduate Business Council, the largest business club at IIT. Leading an Up to Us Campus Competition team was definitely one of those experiences.

Not Just About Fiscal Policy

As a student, I was naturally drawn to organizations that focused on governance, economics, and business. In my opinion, Up to Us, in addition to being fiscally-focused, is a movement that sits at the intersection of politics, economics, policy, and even communications and media relations. As a Finance major, I didn’t think I had many of those skills, but the Campus Competition gave me the chance to build them up. Today, I use them daily in my job and am thankful for the tangible skills and real-life experience Up to Us provided. 

Different Voices Inspire New Ways of Thinking

George Batah giving a presentation for Up to Us

Being able to have thoughtful and productive conversations on technical or divisive topics – whether with your classmates, professors, mentors and, eventually business colleagues and supervisors – is an art form. And when you work across ideologies and are introduced to different ways of thinking, I have found that it creates many “a-ha” moments – something that I experienced as a participant in Up to Us.

Our Up to Us campaign at IIT convened as many different student groups and multiple campus offices for one mission – to work together, despite personal political views – and address the growing national debt. We partnered with IIT’s Office of the President, the Office of External Affairs, and the Office of Marketing and Communications. I also found ways to engage the organizations I was already affiliated with and develop strong partnerships with the Stuart School of Business, Engineers without Borders, and the Student Government Association. 

What I love about consulting is being in the position of advising companies on how to address challenges they are facing in the marketplace. Traveling across the country (note: a few months ago, I accomplished a milestone it takes most people a lifetime to do -visiting all 50 states in the United States!) working with different companies and people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, 

I often tap into the skills of collaboration and thoughtful communication I refined with Up to Us. Every day, I need to think, analyze and research different approaches and dimensions – and understand all sides of an issue, even if those perspectives may not be popular.

In today’s political climate, partisanship is a real challenge. But with shared goals, and a willingness to keep an open mind, we can achieve so much by working together.

Sustainable Solutions Take Time, But We Must Act Now

George Batah and his Up to Us team

The national debt may not be not top-of-mind among all young Americans, but it directly affects our generation’s future. Just imagine if the benefits that your parents and grandparents enjoy today – like home ownership, Social Security and Medicare – are no longer available to us? 

I hope that by learning about the issues and impact and joining the Up to Us movement, more of us will be better prepared to face the problems that are related to the national debt that we will soon inherit. 

George Batah is a New York based consultant and humanitarian activist. During his senior year at the Illinois Institute of Technology, George led his team to place in the Top 3 of the national Up to Us Competition among 22 participating schools. He is the co-founder of the “Syrian Youth Empowerment,” an organization to help Syrian high school students secure scholarships for college. The organization has helped secure admissions and full scholarships for Syrian students to attend Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Columbia, Duke, Brown and others. More recently, George has been awarded IIE Global Changemaker Award and has been named a Schwarzman Scholar, a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum and a representative to the 2017 UN Social and Economic Council Youth Forum.