My Mathematica: Samina Sattar
Editor’s Note: At Mathematica, we’re committed to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work and among our staff. As part of Celebrate Diversity Month, we’re sharing a series of staff profiles adapted from interviews that underscore how Mathematica values, appreciates, and thrives through our diversity of experience.
We all bring our backgrounds and multiculturalism to the workplace, and I think that’s a strength of Mathematica.
I’m on the board of the New Jersey chapter of the Islamic Networks Group, a national nonprofit based in California with affiliates around the country. I’m part of a team of speakers that present about Islam and Muslims to mainly non-Muslim audiences to try to build tolerance and awareness about the faith. We go to a variety of places—schools, colleges, houses of worship, businesses, and conferences—and give presentations to increase understanding of the basic tenets of the faith and those who practice it.
Part of the goal of speaking publically about Islam is to answer questions that people might have and to inform others. A friend’s mother started the New Jersey chapter, so at first there were just the three of us. Now we have seven speakers across the state. For me, it’s important to be engaged and to help promote an accurate and nuanced understanding of Islam and Muslims. I started in 2014 by speaking to students and teachers in middle and high schools. Sometimes, teachers will bring in speakers from our group as a way to complement the school’s curriculum in social studies or world history. We have also done professional development for teachers who teach a variety of subjects. That said, when we speak in schools, we follow the principles of the First Amendment and simply offer an overview of Islam, historically in the United States and globally.
It’s been very rewarding for me to go to schools and talk with kids. They have really interesting questions and genuinely want to learn. When we speak to school audiences, we try to infuse humor into the presentations, and that works well. But Muslim students face some serious issues. We’ve seen a multifold increase in bullying of Muslim students recently, and by speaking with kids, we hope to help build bridges and promote better understanding.
We’ve reached thousands of people in New Jersey alone, and I’m hopeful that we’re making a difference. It’s reassuring to me that someone who has seen one of my presentations might think twice about misinformation they’ve heard about Islam. Our aim is to help dispel stereotypes and explain the reality versus the misconceptions about our religion. Through public speaking, I put a face to Muslims and offer people a side of the religion they don’t usually see.
Asking others to put aside their preconceived notions and see a different side of the story helps my research and analysis as well. It helps me see the bigger picture of how people engage with and are shaped by the programs and experiences around them.
Samina Sattar joined Mathematica in 2007, where she focuses on employment and family support projects in the Princeton office and works closely with our foundation partners. Before joining Mathematica, she did stints at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC, and the New York City-based Women of Color Policy Network. She was also a consultant for the Citizens’ Committee for Children. She holds an M.P.A. in policy analysis from New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.