Interview with Madina Bizhanova who got into the MBA program at the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business
- Please tell us about yourself and the most important skills you would have learned as a student at NU.
Born and raised in Aralsk, a small town in southern Kazakhstan, I grew up taking on any leadership role at my school as an opportunity to reconcile my bookish introversion with a streak of competitiveness. However, the larger scale of leadership opportunities at my undergraduate NU SSH program made me realize that people with authority to make executive decisions can have life-changing impact on the lives of those under their care. Having initially founded NU’s first female soccer team to get to play soccer myself, for example, I found that our weekly training sessions became an important source of mental support for my teammates.
- How was your student life? Have you participated in student clubs, groups, competitions?
While at NU, I recognized future leaders of our country in my peers and was therefore concerned that our classes discussed political and economic issues of any region but our own. I used the university’s student leadership platforms such as Student Council, Political Science/International Relations Students Association, and Academic Support Club to encourage my classmates to take a critical inward look at the socio-economic issues within Kazakhstan and its neighbors.
- Tell us why you chose History as a specialty? How did studying at SSH help you with your career choice so far?
I initially grew up with a determination of achieving the universal dream of financial security. However, my ambitions grew beyond building personal fortune after my father, a widely beloved and respected school teacher, died from a stroke and the memories of him inevitably began fading away over time. His sudden absence from my life became a permanent reminder of life’s fleeting nature and my subsequent search for the most meaningful and lasting accomplishment that I could leave behind led me to major in History during my undergraduate studies at Nazarbayev University. Along with my double-minors in Economics and Political Science, I became convinced that I could have the most positive social impact within my lifetime by focusing on economic development and helping build a strong middle class, a crucial backbone of democracy, in my homeland of Kazakhstan and its Central Asian neighbors.
- Why did you decide to apply for the MBA program at the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business?
My graduate coursework in Eurasian Studies at Georgetown University, together with its International Business Certificate program, reinforced my belief that attracting western investment into my home region will help uplift the local communities out of poverty within my lifetime, while strengthening the rule of law for future generations. However, over the past three years I became more alarmed about the health and environmental hazards of the prevailing unsustainable production and consumption patterns. My worldview evolved beyond its regional focus as I realized the tightly interwoven nature of the global economy that makes large-scale environmental change so challenging. During my struggles to adopt a vegan, sugar-free diet and toxin-free, zero-waste self-care routine, I realized that processed foods and products have become such an integral part of our lives globally that it is not easy – or affordable – for the majority to significantly change their current consumption habits. Amidst a variety of overlapping product labels and a ton of amateur, often brand-sponsored, product quality assessments, the majority of the general public do not have enough time or energy to comprehensively research which products they can trust to be the least harmful while also meeting their budget constraints.
In order to facilitate the transition to a green lifestyle for many, I now aspire to establish the first-of-its-kind consumer due diligence company – “the ultimate influencer” – with a mobile app platform that will provide independent product quality evaluations based on accurate, yet actionable summaries of the latest, rigorous scientific research, delivered in an easy-to-follow, attractive format, and updated continuously as new products and research emerge. Prior attempts at consumer due diligence services have stalled because those entrepreneurs tried to provide comprehensive quality evaluations of all existing products in any possible category. They overstretched themselves and diluted their ability to stay up-to-date with research on all of those products. Therefore, I plan to focus on essential personal and household items, while cultivating a consumer habit of pre-purchase research in categories of non-essential goods as well, and thus, eventually promoting a global shift towards consumption of fewer but higher quality products.
I hope to embark on this journey well-equipped with exceptional hard and soft skills that I could develop at the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business and that I could sharpen further through a post-graduate work experience in projects that focus on promoting sustainability through adoption of the latest innovations in science and technology.
- What do you pay attention to when choosing a university? What exactly will you study there?
The University of Washington’s Foster Business School is renowned for its top-notch faculty and alumni, partly because Foster’s smaller class sizes allows its professors and career coaches to pay individualized attention to the students. Over the course of the program, I hope to earn certificate in entrepreneurship at Foster’s Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and to contribute to the impressive winning streak of the Foster Consulting Society in case competitions.
- Everyone has been studying online for over a year, and some continue to study and work online. Including you. Do you have any tips on how not to face burnout, to stay productive, but not to the detriment of your physical and mental state?
Following my curiosity has been the ultimate panacea for me during the lockdown. I have been educating myself through influential books, articles, and documentaries about business, finance, and latest environmental solutions, and I follow up my daily business news watch with further deep-dive research. I am most intrigued by cyber-security and data privacy challenges of the modern tech-fueled, highly-interlinked world economy. I also continue to develop my ethical judgment, emotional intelligence, and mindful listening and communication skills through extensive reading, meditation, and deep reflection on stimulating conversations I have had with my professors, coworkers, friends, and family.
- What are your plans for the future?
Many of the Foster School students have a proven track record of beating all odds of their unprivileged backgrounds and channeling their entrepreneurial drive and creativity into impactful social causes. I hope to join the ranks of these high-spirited young people daring to look beyond conventional business frameworks and exploring a wide range of ingenious ways for the private sector to drive solutions to long-standing socio-economic and environmental issues.