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Entrepreneur Rising

December 15, 2020 American Studies

Nazea Khan ’20, right, pictured with fellow study-abroad student Aniya Yarborough

Nazea Khan ’20 sharpened her skills at the intersection of critical thinking and meaningful experience.

By Kimberly Marselas ’00

Nazea Khan ’20 is a self-described “dabbler.”

In the last four years, she’s earned an associate’s degree in business, interned at a local real estate office and with indigenous communities in Ecuador, balanced a liberal arts major with an entrepreneurial minor—and launched a dessert company in the middle of a pandemic.

As Khan prepares for graduation day, she is reflecting on her time spent in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) Department of American Studies, an academic home that she says promoted introspection and new world perspectives at the same time.

Nazea Khan in her cap and gown

“I wanted something where I could do research and learn about the world, to discuss and talk about the things that affect me and the people in my community,” says Khan, a first-generation college student whose family has roots in Bangladesh and Pakistan. “My professors have encouraged me to always, always ask questions. It’s not easy to do, but it pushes me to go outside my comfort zone.”

The Silver Spring, Maryland, resident will head into the work world post-graduation, but she hopes to enroll in law school and one day work in immigration.

Her parents, Shaghir and Delara Khan, came to the U.S. with their first child in 1996, looking for educational and professional opportunities unavailable to them in Bangladesh, where cultural restrictions typically limit class mobility.

Nazea and her younger brothers were born in the U.S. but have seen their family struggle with the immigrant experience—both financially and politically. Some family members are still awaiting citizenship after 13 years in the system. And despite working full-time jobs in security and childcare, her parents sometimes depended on government assistance to feed their family. 

“The biggest motivation for me is to make my parents’ sacrifice worth it,” Khan says. “They left the comforts of home and friends to give us a better life…. I’ve realized I have the privilege of being a citizen. Now, what will I do with that privilege?”

Khan came to the university from Montgomery College through the Southern Management Leadership Program, which provides up to 50% of tuition as well as mentoring, experiential learning and internship opportunities for selected transfer students interested in entrepreneurship.

Nazea and her family

(Her brother Marjan ’19  graduated from the university’s Clark School of Engineering, while younger brother, Zeshan, is a junior biology major.)

Khan chose American studies for its emphasis on critical thinking and intersectionality, which has helped her better understand the complexity layered within people and organizations.

The University Career Center @ARHU also helped Khan explore new endeavors with resume prep and internship searches. The Be Worldwise, Get Worldready initiative integrates career development into ARHU students’ education. 

Sweet as Khan Be desserts

With more free time during the ongoing pandemic, Khan capped off her senior year by founding a business. Sweet As Khan Be is a home-based dessert company that grew from her hobby of delivering banana pudding to relatives in honor of Eid. Selling mostly layered puddings served up in mason jars, she’s made about $2,000 in revenue this year.

Now she wants to take her diverse experiences and put them to work in consulting, marketing, event-planning or public relations knowing her American studies degree has prepared her well.

“I love that the material I’ve been learning can be applied to this changing world,” she said.

Top image: Nazea Khan ’20, right, pictured with fellow study-abroad student Aniya Yarborough, in Cuenca, Ecuador. Second image: Nazea in her cap and gown. Third image: Nazea with her brothers Zeshan Khan ’21, Ayaan Khan and Marjan Khan ’19. Fourth image: Sweet As Khan Be desserts. All images courtesy of Nazea Khan.