Undergraduate student Kevin Li, class of 2019, interviewed Nazat Dowla as part of his 2018 summer internship experience with the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Kevin: Tell me a little about yourself and what made you want to pursue the dual MBA/MPP program?
Nazat: After earning my undergraduate degree in Economics with a concentration in Philosophy and Spanish, I went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. doing defense contracting down in Southern Maryland. A lot of that work was project management and focused on the corporate finance side of things. Most of the clients were government clients. From there I moved on to JP Morgan as a securities lending analyst, and later became a team lead in a much more client-facing role.
After a few years there, I didn’t see myself building a long-term career in finance and knew that I needed to make a hard pivot. I figured that an MBA would give me the skills necessary for that pivot. During my interview at the University of Maryland, my interviewer discussed the Public Policy program and recommended that I pursue that degree as well. So now I’m a dual MBA/MPP candidate, and I’m getting exposure to both the business and public policy perspectives, and filling the gaps in my skill set.
Kevin: Can you expand on how you’re developing your skill set specifically, and in context to the opportunities you have explored at Smith so far?
Nazat: Sure! Through the Center for Global Business, I had the opportunity to work with the Department of Commerce corporate development leadership program. It was an interesting opportunity to look at the regulatory aspect of trade and commerce. I also was able to get connected to a research fellowship, thanks to an introduction from the Center for Social Value Creation, that explored the supply chain aspects of fast fashion and the sustainability issues of the global garments supply chain. Also through CSVC, I was linked up with an opportunity at the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth & Families, where I currently work as a Program Coordinator. In this role, I look at poverty services and health services for the county, and aid them with their 3-year strategic plan by compiling data for at-risk populations.
This was an especially interesting experience as it was the exact opposite of what I was doing at JP Morgan. Rather than just private finance, this work at the Partnership for Children, Youth & Families was on a much smaller and personal scale, and much more meaningful. Additionally, I am a strategic advisor at Due East Partners, a boutique consulting firm co-founded by a Smith EMBA alumnus, doing work focusing on sexual assault and domestic violence/sex trafficking. We are working with multiple partners to build coalitions to look at the data landscape for these areas in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, and Baltimore City. And, over this past summer, I completed an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the energy and power markets in the U.S. I think it’s fair to say that I've done a lot of different kinds of work, in different situations, and it has allowed me to be adaptable to diverse business environments.
Kevin: Wow, quite impressive. You have accomplished a lot already. Can you touch on how you balanced all of these experiences while also being a full-time master’s student?
Nazat: So last year, I was doing an internship, a fellowship, a Graduate Assistantship for the Office of Career Services, all the while being a full-time student and it really comes down to knowing that everything needs to get done. The most important thing to clarify, and to be explicit about when taking on new projects, is your exact limitations and how much flexibility you need. And you need to communicate that to the people relying on you. Many of the experiences I just talked about were remote in nature and provided flexibility. Being very straightforward and open with these stakeholders has increased the diversity of projects I could undertake, without inhibiting my work. It’s very important to clarify that even if you can’t be there all the time, your value-added skills remotely are still benefiting the firms in the end.
Kevin: Great, so when you started the MBA program, you specifically sought out the Center for Social Value Creation, can you tell me more about why you did that?
Nazat: Definitely! So my MBA experience was a little non-traditional as my program is three years due to the added MPP component. This means that I am required to have two summer internships and most of the consulting internships available to MBAs did not allow more than a one-year deferment for a full-time position. So what I was looking for was a government, NGO/non-profit public-policy related internship that I could leverage for future federal consulting.
One of my friends was the Graduate Assistant for CSVC and suggested I talk to Kim, the director of CSVC. I just stopped by during lunch one day and she immediately stopped what she was doing to help me out. She got my contact information and had me send her my resume and cover letter, and the next day I got a call from one of Kim’s contacts, about the research I ended up doing and I’m still involved with today. It was an incredible opportunity and Kim helped me out a lot. Getting the experience to work with smaller organizations, and on the public policy side of things, has really helped broaden my horizons.
Kevin: What advice would you give to other students interested in using their careers to make a difference?
Nazat: There likely won’t be a clear-cut path for what you want to do, so it’s important to commit to just doing it. I think it can be intimidating, but it’s important to know and to utilize the different resources and people - like the CSVC - who are willing to help you along the way to find those opportunities. It doesn’t have to be only formal emails, and can really just be stopping by and saying “hi” to people. I think that the Maryland atmosphere has been incredibly helpful and people across the various offices are very willing to help. All you need to do is ask.
Kevin: What are you looking forward to this coming year, entering the second year of the MBA program, and working as a Graduate Assistant for the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC)?
Nazat: I will be starting my public policy classes this year so I am quite excited about that. Additionally, I will be continuing my two roles as a Program Coordinator and Strategic Advisor, while also doing graduate assistantships for the MPP program as well as for the MBA program with the CSVC. I think the most exciting part is that there is a lot of change happening at the Center, and it will provide me a really wonderful opportunity to meaningfully contribute to its work, and cultivate a more robust and diverse perspective.
Kevin: Can you tell me a fun fact about yourself?
Nazat: I am in the process of booking a meditation retreat. Anyone who knows me would probably just laugh at the possibility that I could be silent for three minutes let alone three days. I’ve done meditation on and off for the last few years and I feel like I need to go out there and do something drastic. I hope to eventually do a 14 day one in Tibet. We’ll see how long I can shut up [laughs].