Video produced by Public Relations and Strategic Communications and Marketing and Brand Strategy UK. To see the subtitles for this video, press play and click on the CC icon in the lower right corner of the screen. If you are using a mobile device, click on the “thought bubble” in the same area.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (August 17, 2022) – It’s the moment every graduate anticipates.
Meryum Siddiqi envisioned donning a blue cap and gown as she proudly walked across the Rupp Arena stage — putting one foot in front of the other until her outstretched hand reached for that coveted diploma. There would be family members giving warm hugs unannounced and sincere smiles captured in countless photos.
But those congratulatory gestures never came.
“It was March 2020. We had been sent home from school because of COVID-19,” said Siddiqi. “I thought, ‘this is going to go by so fast’.”
But little did she know, days would turn into weeks, weeks would turn into months. The world as we once knew it changed drastically. The definition of normal disappeared — and so did Siddiq’s plans for her final semester.
She was left with questions, anxieties and fears about what the future would hold. So, Siddiqi decided to channel her energy into her schoolwork.
“In April, the UK was offering distance learning facilities to students,” she said. “Since I was already at home, I thought I would focus even more on school, so I asked for the iPad. And that was the beginning of the unexpected.”
The University of Kentucky strives to integrate technology in a way that supports students.
A joint venture between Student Success and the EVPFA/IT offices, Smart Campus is an incubator for entrepreneurial ideas on how to better prepare students in new ways of thinking and contributing.
With these goals in mind, the Smart Campus iPad initiative was launched in 2019. As a result, more than 19,000 iPads issued in the UK are being used by sophomores, juniors, seniors, faculty and staff.
“The iPad initiative is about leveling the playing field so that all students have access to the latest state-of-the-art technology,” said Kirsten Turner, vice president for Student Success. “Our students deserve to be the leaders of society – the Commonwealth needs an educated workforce and citizens to push the edges of knowledge to solve the toughest problems.”
During the pandemic, the UK wanted to expand efforts to use technology to maximize learning and support for students.
It was an unprecedented transition—creating a “re-imagined normal” for an entire campus community. But together, faculty, staff and students rose to the challenge. And technology was at the heart of creating solutions.
Almost overnight, Zoom went from being a somewhat niche platform to supporting the entirety of UK institutional operations alongside other enterprise technologies.
To help students with the transition, the UK provided iPads for those who did not have access to technology to complete schoolwork at home.
“This initiative allowed the university to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic and Maryam Siddiq’s story is a perfect example of why we continue to invest in technology for our students,” Rosa Crisantos, an ITS specialist who helps lead the Smart Initiative Campus. “In today’s connected world, students need technology to thrive. By putting these iPads in their hands, we’re bridging the technology gap and ensuring they have the tools to succeed throughout their college careers and beyond campus.”
Siddiqi saw the iPad as a silver lining during a dark time. But it soon turned into much more.
“For the next two months, I was filling my time creating a lot of designs,” she said.
Designs of strawberries, trees and rainbows in soothing pastels began to fill Siddiq’s iPad. While confined to her home, Siddiq’s creativity blossomed and continued to flourish.
“I really gravitate to things in nature—flowers, rainbows, the sky—because nature reflects authenticity,” she explained. “But I find a way to make it bright and colorful because that’s what attracts people.”
Here Siddiqi drew on the knowledge and skills she gained during her time in the UK.
In May 2020, she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Gatton College of Business and Economics and a bachelor’s degree in integrated strategic communication from the College of Communication and Information.
Not long after Siddiqi began drawing on her iPad, her designs came to life on glass cups, notepads, stickers, carts and more. “At first it wasn’t a business, but my friends got interested,” she said.
Siddiq’s designs became products, and her products became businesses — complete with a website, social media presence and a mission.
“My vision became to create and share designs and products that would make people smile – if only for a moment.”
And it worked.
Meryum Designs went viral – gaining thousands and thousands of followers on Instagram. Orders also flooded in. The models that brought smiles to Siddiq had done the same for others.
“It’s kind of crazy. I never expected that the drawings on my iPad would turn into a whole business.”
Siddiq’s senior year did not go as he had always imagined.
But when he reflects on those months of 2020, Siddiqi thinks about the business he created. Although small, she continues to have a huge impact on her outlook on life and on others.
Now, Siddiqi is encouraging fellow students to embrace the unexpected.
“UK giving these iPads to students is such a huge investment for us,” she said. “If your someone who thinks outside the box – which the UK encourages us to do – you should explore the opportunities available to you through resources.”