Amit Banerjee is a jack-of-all-trades. He is a self-starter philanthropist and CEO, student mentor, and advocate for nonprofits across Dallas including TangoTab and Genesis Women’s Shelter. The 21-year-old SMU senior is majoring in electrical engineering.
The Look: Why do you do what you do with volunteering?
Amit Banerjee: I was taught at a young age that I don’t have to be rich or old to be a philanthropist. That was a word that meant a lot to me – philanthropist. I heard it with Bill Gates and Oprah and knowing that I could do something similar, even if I don’t have their wealth or experience. I can do good for people.
TL: How do you balance your schoolwork with volunteering?
AB: It’s definitely a challenge. I used to not necessarily prioritize academics as much as I should have, but more recently, especially over the past couple years, I’ve gotten a lot better at making sure that I don’t sign up for anything unless I know for a fact that I’m going to be able to make it and I’m going to be able to commit to it. I make sure I’m caught up or ahead with my homework so I have time to do one or two things that weekend.
TL: How would you describe your personal style?
AB: I definitely believe business casual is the way that everyone should kind of approach life. It’s the idea that you can live a day-to-day life but also maintain an executive presence, whether its networking or just being a confident figure head. I feel like business casual is an internal mindset rather than an outward appearance.
TL: What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
AB: Finding a way to motivate myself and find my self-worth even though, externally, it seems like I’m doing a lot of things that check the boxes that should make you feel happy, make you feel confident. I struggle with really bad depression. There are days when I’ll wake up and get ready for the day but I just can’t get myself to find the motivation to go to class, go to work, do all these thing that I want to do and have committed to doing. Typically, if I can get out the door, I’m good for the day. It’s kind of that first hump that I really struggle with.
TL: Top four pieces of advice for first year students?
AB: 1. Get involved. I know that’s cheesy and everyone says that, but realistically, this is a small school. I feel like I know a healthy chunk of the population, but that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t involved – if I didn’t join a club or organization that got me doing something I enjoyed and being with people who also enjoyed similar things.
2. Your friends will ebb and flow. The friend group you have freshman year maybe stay the same, or maybe move to a different group your senior year. People change and people grow.
3. Go to class, do your homework, stay ahead. If you’re ahead, you can’t fall behind.
4. You’re never unqualified for a job, you might just not have that skill set. That is not a reason not to apply to a job – just because you’re a first year student.
TL: What is next for you after graduation?
AB: I am currently in the recruitment process with a few companies. I have received some return offers and full-time job offers, so I’m trying to figure out what is the best opportunity for me, what is the best location for me, and what is the best space for me.
TL: Why did you choose SMU?
AB: I grew up here in Dallas and I grew up always hearing about SMU. I didn’t really look into a school to attend until maybe my junior year or senior year. I was involved in a program called TEDxSMU since about 2011, so 5 years prior to me actually starting here as a freshman. I built a relationship with some of the people from the engineering school and they kept saying “Amit, you need to be here.” I took that to heart.
TL: What would your favorite SMU tradition be?
AB: Football and school spirit is huge to me, so I love game day. At a smaller level, I love MoMac at the Movies.
TL: Early bird or night owl?
AB: Definitely night owl.
TL: What would be your last meal if you were on death row?
AB: Part of me wants to say a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, just something super classic and wholesome. But, I think otherwise I would want an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, because if it’s all-you-can-eat, I never have to be executed. You just keep eating.
TL: What is your theme song?
AB: Burnin’ Up by the Jonas Brothers.
TL: Who is your celebrity crush?
AB: This is hard. I think in more of a “I adore them for who they are and what they do,” Bill and Melinda Gates. I would definitely want to third-wheel those dates. In terms of physical attractiveness, I think Margot Robbie has to be it.
TL: Who would play you in a movie about your life?
AB: If it is a more comedic look on my life, I think Aziz Ansari or Kal Penn. In a drama, Irrfan Khan.
TL: What is your guilty pleasure?
AB: I have a Disney Jams playlist that I listen to multiple times a week. If you went to 2009 and put on Radio Disney, it’s all those songs.
TL: What is your Starbucks order?
AB: Let me preface this by saying that I would go to Union Coffee over Starbucks any day. They do a lot of cool events and volunteering opportunities, and their coffee is most of the time better than Starbucks. I would order their matcha mint. If I had to go to Starbucks, I would settle for a classic grande white mocha if it’s cold or a strawberry acai refresher if it’s hot.
TL: What is your superpower?
AB: I think I’m a really good therapist. I’m a good listener and in certain situations, giving advice.
TL: If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?
AB: Let’s say it was like $500 million. I would donate probably all but $15 million. I would probably start a foundation or something and then with the rest of the money, I would pay off all debt that I have, my close friends have and my family has. Then, I would splurge on suits and real estate.
TL: Describe yourself in three words.
AB: Philanthropist, advocate, innovator.
TL: What is your greatest achievement?
AB: Being considered some kind of role model, whether it’s to my younger brother or underclassmen. Being able to cultivate some kind of career in the 21 years I’ve been here, where I can show that you can be involved in a lot of things; you can be kind, you can be good, you can help people, you can be smart – you can do all these things and still live your life.