Following is a summary of a recent conversation with Shamma Iqbal, a 2005 Counterpane graduate. Shamma received a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) in International Affairs at UGA and a Juris Doctor (JD), at the College of Law, Georgia State University. She is currently working as a criminal defense lawyer.
FW: When did you join the Counterpane family?
SHAMMA: Begrudgingly, I transferred to Counterpane as a rising seventh grader from a school where I did the minimum, just to get by, to get those A’s and B’s, and I wasn’t being challenged. It was very – easy! TV, clothes, and other very superficial things were my focus.
FW: So, how was the transition?
SHAMMA: Very difficult! My mornings were filled with, “Mom, you’re taking me to school every day, and I don’t like it!” To which Mom replied, “I know you don’t, but it’s good for you.” It took three-fourths of a year to really … really fit in, and to realize that learning was my responsibility.
FW: Can you describe that process?
SHAMMA: You get to know who you are at Counterpane, what sparks your interest, what direction you want to go in life, and what kind of people you like around you. I think you need that sense of I’m going to figure this out myself. For instance, at Counterpane, you understand and learn the process of a math problem, discovering the steps and how to do it. Such work not only helps to understand the basic concepts behind math, but it also helps you understand how you learn.
FW: What was your most valuable experience at Counterpane?
SHAMMA: When you get to choose what you want to learn, you can’t help but be excited. I think oral defenses were probably the most valuable and my favorite part of Counterpane. I got to choose anything I wanted to research for a year. I read, learned, asked questions, formulated my own opinion on a topic, and wrote a thesis. Then the presentation and the oral defense – that was the best learning I could have ever done. Being able to answer questions – defending your research – requires a thorough understanding of your topic. It helped me in so many ways: seeing a project from beginning to end, learning how to speak well, and how to be efficient in my communication.
FW: How many yearlong research projects did you do?
SHAMMA: I did four! The first was on the Salem Witch Trials. That project led me to think about women and men being treated differently, which inspired my last yearlong project – a course I designed on women’s studies. It examined how women had been treated throughout history, in different cultures and countries. I didn’t know I was so passionate about women’s studies until then!
FW: Parents often express concern about a child transitioning from Counterpane’s small environment to a large university environment such as UGA. How was that experience for you?
SHAMMA: Honestly, academically it wasn’t an issue at all, and, socially, you adapt. You’re still learning, processing, reading, and writing … all the same. In a big school, there are little niches! You find your place! I did improvisation at Counterpane, so I got to do theater at UGA – I did a lot of theater. I found my little niche of people who became very close friends! I think, no matter where you go, big or small, you find that little niche of people that you relate to and befriend.
FW: Did it bother you that Counterpane does not allow dating amongst fellow students?
SHAMMA: I think that is the best policy for such a small environment. If you’re distracted by what clothes you’re wearing, or how you look today, or you’re worried about getting someone’s attention, learning becomes secondary when it should be your primary goal.
FW: Counterpane is a student-centered environment, with a curriculum designed from the individual student outward. What are your thoughts about that?
SHAMMA: I see it as journey-centered rather than product-centered. Quickly, Counterpane helped me realize it’s not about the end, it’s the journey that is ten times more valuable – no a million times more valuable – than the end product.
FW: Would you change anything?
SHAMMA: Yes, one thing! I would have gone to Counterpane when I was five – or three! I can remember my first day of Counterpane! I can remember the first book I read at Counterpane:
Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. In fact, I would want my children to go to Counterpane! I would love that! Building that foundation pays dividends for the rest of your life. I really, really believe that.