Shirin Shaikh has been outshining her peers from a young age and does not appear to be slowing down now that she is a student at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Notes asked the go-getter what spurs her on to continuously achieve. "Our dreams must be stronger than our memories," she replied.

"We must be pulled by our dreams, rather than pushed by our memories and it is these dreams or goals that give a purpose to my life, for without purpose life is meaningless. There is nothing to look forward to and it is human nature that we cannot be satiated with the accomplishment of a single feat of the past."

High school achievements

As a high school student at Our Own English High School, Dubai, Shaikh clinched the all-round best gold medal from 500 other candidates for her performance in competitions, community service, drama, elocution, debating and poetry and song writing.

In her tenth grade she was awarded a gold medal by the All India Muslim Association for securing the top grade among Muslim children in the UAE.

She also won a debating competition organised by the Indian Consulate in Dubai. The Indian Consul General and employees of Gulf News and other newspapers acted as judges.

"Being chosen by my school as a delegate to meet the former president of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, easily ranks as one of my most cherished memories, for meeting the president in person is the dream of any individual," Shaikh said.

As a young student, she took on several responsibilities. They included prefect positions, the most important one being that of deputy head girl.

Writing is also her forte – she was selected as editor of the school magazine Vision. "The responsibility of heading a highly prestigious magazine was immense but with the guidance of my teachers, I was able to accomplish the work successfully," she said.

Owing to her excellent public speaking skills, companies have asked Shaikh to compere events; MET TV invited her to host its public speaking programme Born to Excel for a month.

Excelling in college

Shaikh says it was "natural" that she continued being active when she joined AUS; the opportunities on campus also helped her to pursue her interests.

Her activities include:

Active membership in the debating club; she has won the university public speaking competition, besides others.

Being selected by the Business Student Committee to act as public relations manager. The role involves undertaking projects such as the Marcaluz dealers meet, quiz competitions, the Shell ambassador programme, book swaps, charity bake sales and health campaigns.

Being appointed vice president/associate editor of AUS's official monthly newspaper, The Leopard, which connects the university community by reporting on events and interesting news around campus.

Being chosen an AUS diplomat, which gives Shaikh a larger platform to represent her university at events and conferences.

Community service – she has participated in charity marathons, volunteered for the Al Noor Centre for Children with Special Needs and donated generously to Mother Teresa centres. Recently she was among a group of students who organised a charity iftar at AUS for the elderly and orphaned.

However, her proudest achievement is winning a Shaikh Khalifa scholarship recently. The scholarship covers 100 per cent of her tuition fees and supercedes all other university-level awards.

Inspiration and time management

Asked who, or what, inspires her, she said: "Since I was a little child, my mother guided me constantly and became my best friend. Her qualities of immense patience, unconditional love and unshakable support for what I do have inspired me to set greater goals and try to achieve them.

"It is her faith in me that has allowed me to stand on my feet. My parents are truly the pillars of strength in my life and for this I am forever grateful and thankful to them," she added.

So how does she manage to fill her days with so many activities and still have time for fun?

"Money, I can gain or lose, but time is precious. So managing it carefully is of utmost importance, " she said.

Shaikh says she is a disciplined person who prioritises her goals and objectives and strategically aims to achieve them, which makes it easier to manage academics and extracurricular activities.

"Managing my time allows me to indulge in other activities of relaxation such as socialising with my friends and family, going out for fun evenings, reading books of interest and keeping a healthy and fit life, " she added.

The future

Shaikh believes education is freedom and hopes to continue on an academic path for some years.

She is currently working toward her certified financial analyst exam and hopes to get the American degree within two years. Her long-term plans are ambitious – she hopes to get an MBA in finance from either Wharton or Harvard in the US and perhaps a PhD down the road.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep ... I have miles to go before I sleep," she said.

Shirin Shaikh on philanthropy

Shirin Shaikh is part of the AUS Diplomat Programme, which selects students on the basis of their leadership and academic skills. These students represent the "public image" of the university. One of their top priorities is community service, through which the students can contribute to society by volunteering for various activities.

As an AUS diplomat, Shaikh has visited the Al Noor Centre for Children with Special Needs. She regularly donates money to areas around the world that are poverty-stricken or are suffering from famine or natural disasters.

"You have to be passionate about what you do," Shaikh said. "It's either in you or it isn't. University offers us many channels to give back to the community, which we won't have later; so we must take advantage of this time."

She explained that the huge turnout at the university's charity iftar for orphans and the elderly, which she helped host, is a clear indication of students' interest and yearning to be involved in contributing to the community.

She said that social responsibility is an essential factor for personal development.

"If we're not part of society and we're not involved in the issues around us then there's no point in being in such a prestigious university," she said. "We need to take an active role in society."