Hume Tutor Spotlight

Fall Quarter 2020

Zak Sharif, Former OCT

Year? Senior

Major? Political Science

You have several roles in the center (event and outreach assistant, OCT, office assistant). What first drew you to Hume? Why did those particular roles interest you:

So the first time I got interested in joining Hume was my freshman fall. I was looking on Handshake for Campus jobs and I was originally an English major when I came into school, so I thought working at the writing center would be perfect. And I had done a lot of social media and stuff in high school for a non profit, and both seem like a perfect fit. And I met you the Hume team, it was a fun time, so here I am three years later. It’s been a really enjoyable part of my Stanford career and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

What is your approach to outreach and events support and do you have any favorite events that you can share:

For me, I just always want to make promo that people are going to want to interact with, if that makes sense. I think a lot of things at Stanford are very same old, same old and students get flooded with emails every single day. So for me, it's like, “What is something that's going to pop and what is something that's consistent with the Hume identity?”. So kind of trying to make sure you always keep the brand in mind while still making something that's attractive and cool so people want to visit. In terms of favorite events, I would say, I guess it's an internal event but, I’ve always loved the Hume Christmas party. I always find that it’s super fun. In terms of things I've planned, I love the Hume Valentine. That's my favorite thing. I remember freshman year, we all kind of chipped in on making all those activities and a little card and it's really cool to see it get all put together.

What do you think makes an effective speaker, and how does that influence your tutoring style:

I think the most effective speaker, this is something I always tell my tutees, is a comfortable speaker, and a speaker that’s being themself. I feel like so many times students will come into OCT appointments and they'll be like, “Oh, I just feel like I don't sound professional enough” or “I sound dumb when I talk” or “I don't like the way my voice sounds”. These are all things I've heard and it's kind of all besides the point. No one sounds dumb when they speak. No one's voice is incorrect. No one is more professional than someone else. It’s all about “What is your style?”and getting comfortable with just being you when you present. And so what I always try and do whenever I'm starting an OCT session is just making sure the person feels comfortable with me, person to person, so that I get to see kind of who they are naturally in just a regular setting and really work to bring that out during the presentation. Because, again, I think so many times people have this archetype of what a “good speaker” is in their head and nine times out of ten it's not true. That person may be a good speaker for them, but they’re not going to be a good speaker for you.

What do you think of when people say that Hume is remedial:

I think that is the complete wrong idea. The Hume Center isn’t about, and tutoring in general isn't about, fixing deficiencies. It's about building strengths. So you come into a Hume appointment and it’s not about what you're doing wrong, it's about making what you do right even better. I remember Denzel Washington, the famous actor, to this day he still gets acting lessons whenever he's not working on a project, because even the best of the best can always get better. And so I think everyone at Stanford can improve in their writing and everyone can improve in their speaking. Even as a tutor, I go to my own tutoring appointments to make sure that I feel ready and comfortable for whatever presentation or paper I’m working on, and I think everyone should take that approach. No one is too good for tutoring and everyone can benefit from it, for sure.

Do you have a favorite piece of spoken art:

I would say my favorite piece of spoken art is probably the song DNA by Kendrick Lamar. I think that is a perfect demonstration of what I was talking about earlier about embodying your own strengths and yourself in whatever you're trying to present. And the reason I say that is, on that song, not only is the content really deep and meaningful, each time you re-listen to it you get something new. I think the best pieces of spoken art have layers. So moving through it cursory, you get caught up in the emotion, the second layer you get caught up and the intricacies of the words, the third layer you’re getting some of the wordplay and every time you listen to it, you discover something new. Also in terms of delivery, I think what's interesting about that song and great speakers in general, whether it's a politician or an orator, is how they always vary how they're delivering different parts of their speech or their songs to make sure that you're always holding the listener’s attention. I think Kendrick Lamar really demonstrates that by the way he changes his pitch, by the way he changes his flow, and, you know, it seems kind of odd to bring up a song, but I think sometimes songs are the best form of spoken art and people can learn a lot more from listening to music and bringing that into the regular speech patterns.

Can you speak to a formative Hume experience that you feel will continue to inform your life after Stanford:

This year, I had a student who is blind and she came in for her PWR 2 presentation. There are so many things that you take for granted when you're an OCT. When you're talking about how to improve presentation, you think very much from an able-bodied perspective, and having someone from the disabled community come in really just shifted everything I was thinking about and thinking about what a good presentation is. So that appointment was basically me sitting down with her and helping her make slides and trying to translate good design skills with something that was still fundamentally her project was a really interesting challenge, but I think it really allowed me to better understand what a good presentation is. And it was also really cool to be able to form that relationship. She ended up coming in for like two, three weeks, for two hours at a time, and we would just really hammer out that same presentation. Every single time she came in, it was so cool to see her grow more confident and get a better understanding of herself as a presenter, and for me to just learn different ways of interacting and really get myself out of like an able bodied mentality and see just how different perspectives should be valued and how, regularly, we just don't. We just take so much for granted and that was a really, really great experience. And then I would say in my event and outreach role, I kind of touched on this earlier, but I think one of the first things at Stanford that I felt very proud of was having completed that Valentine's Day event. I think coming into Stanford everyone is a little insecure, everyone was the smartest kid in their highest school and you come into this big pond where everyone's super smart. And it feels like, especially as a freshman, there's a lot that's out of your reach. And so being able to see that project from start to finish and create this product that I was really proud of, and it seemed like a lot of people enjoyed, was a real good confirmation that I belong here. And this was something that I was good at and something I really enjoy doing. So yeah, that was probably a great formative experience and a reason why I kept coming back to work at Hume.