Ali Niaz sits in a podcast studio at Colorado State University, Feb. 6, 2024.
Ali Niaz, a Colorado State University English and journalism student, sits in the school’s podcast studio February 6, 2024. Photo credit: Ryan Warner/CPR News.

Student Spotlight

Ali Niaz, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts who is majoring in English with a concentration in literature and journalism, was recently featured on an episode of Colorado Matters by Colorado Public Radio.

In the February 9, 2024 segment titled “Ali Niaz isn’t going to be a doctor, and that’s OK,” Niaz discussed his award-winning documentary, “The Rocket Scientist Versus The Journalist: A Battle Within Culture” with CPR’s Ryan Warner.

Part of the Northern Colorado Deliberative Journalism Project, the film spotlights the pressure South Asian students feel to pursue career paths in STEM, such as medicine and engineering (Niaz recalled how he had to convince his parents that a career in the humanities has value).

Inside the film

In the opening frames of the doc, images of life on campus flash by as Niaz asks the essential question of the film: “As humans we live, breathe, play, create; we develop languages and cultures, things that give us power and identity. But what if those very things keep us from doing what really makes us happy?”

Then he goes on to contextualize the paradox further, “Would you rather be a perfect part of the puzzle that everyone expects you to be or would you rather make your own path?”

As the story moves from Niaz’s high school dream of being an actor to his decision to pursue English and journalism at CSU, he notices that not a lot of people in his humanities classes look like him, and wants to explore why.

“There’s this bond that people of color share whenever they’re in a place that’s predominantly white,” he narrates. Niaz says he feels this sense of community immediately when he connects with three current students to help with his project and unpack their shared culture.

The film also highlights a key turning point in Niaz’s relationship to the humanities when he is introduced to Professor of English Aparna Gollapudi. Ultimately, Niaz describes the mentorship he receives from Dr. Gollapudi as life-changing, and credits her for making him feel confident in his decision to become a storyteller.

Reaching a wider audience

After connecting with Ryan Warner during his sophomore year for a journalism class project, Niaz  invited him to attend the premiere of his film at CSU. The reaction he received kind of blew him away.

Ryan Warner
Ryan Warner

“Ryan thoroughly enjoyed the film and called me the next day for an interview!” Niaz said.

“The phone call was completely unexpected, but when he had told me that he wanted to interview me I was very excited to be able to shed more light on the story I was telling in my documentary.”

With the publicity garnered by the Colorado Matters feature, Niaz is hopeful his documentary will reach a wider audience and resonate with students who find themselves navigating similar conflicts.

“The story I’m telling means a lot to me and to so many people, though I don’t think it’s a very talked about issue in mainstream media. I felt like I was able to empower those that have experienced a story similar to mine, but were unable to talk about it, which has always been my goal,” he said.

After doing the interview, Niaz said he was grateful for the opportunity to chat with Warner and learn from him. One piece of advice Warner offered struck a chord: “Ryan did give me some advice in terms of breaking into journalism, but it was more so about the pressure I put on myself,” Niaz said.

“While there is a growing population of artists that are South-Asian or Asian, the number is still small. Ryan asked me about the pressure that I put on myself and told me that I don’t need to put so much pressure or to believe that I need to speak for a whole culture or generation of people, which I appreciated.”

Listen to CPR’s full conversation with Niaz on Colorado Matters here: