Alumna Banafsheh Azizi Shares Life Lessons With Nunn School Students
Posted February 26, 2021
After growing up in Kuwait, Banafsheh Azizi moved to the United States to study at Georgia Tech's Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. Unknowingly, this would be one of the most challenging yet rewarding periods in her life. She learned many lessons, which have guided her career.
“It was in the classrooms of Georgia Tech, where my professors taught me how to think critically at all levels (personally, professionally, and academically),” said Azizi, an alumna of the B.S. and M.S. in International Affairs Program and the Georgia Tech Alumni Association 40 under 40. “I believe they provided me with a safe space and freedom to think, grow, and change. They empowered me to un-learn and learn, with encouragement, vigor, and moral support.”
Her experience at Georgia Tech interacting with her mentors, classmates, and professors helped unlock her potential. It made her the leader, woman, and professional she is today.
“I often tell people, my education at Georgia Tech taught me to ask ‘why’ and be intrigued with the process of finding the answer, and that ultimately, there is NO right answer,” explained Azizi. “The journey of finding my answers and truth is the definition of success for me. My Georgia Tech education laid the foundation, and it will continue to serve as a guiding principle for me.”
Azizi graduated from the Nunn School in 2004 with her B.S. and in 2008 with her M.S. She virtually returned to Professor Katja Weber's class in fall 2020 to share her experiences with Georgia Tech students. She had three valuable lessons that have served her well in her career as a journalist, consultant, and now the chief operating officer at Bayt Abdullah Children's Hospice (BACCH) and Kuwait Association for Care of Children in Hospital (KACCH).
Azizi, currently a doctoral student in Leadership and Learning in Organizations at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, believes in being a life-long learner. She developed this mentality at Georgia Tech and has taken it with her throughout her career.
“I always tell someone, especially students, how writing a research paper is going to translate when you have a role in an organization,” explained Azizi. “In a research paper, you need to make an argument. Similarly, when you want to introduce a change in an organization, you have to make a case for it.”
Throughout Azizi's career, there have been some setbacks, but she has learned to be comfortable with failing.
“When I moved back to the Middle East, I was proud of the woman that I had become within a community that was not very welcoming to me,” said Azizi. “I was seen as a non-traditional woman because I did not match certain societal, cultural, or religious norms.”
Despite these moments of ‘profound difficulties,’ it made Azizi more resilient, empathetic, and understanding of others' perception.
During Azizi's time in the United States, she learned about the power of values. When she started working at KACCH, she needed to recruit volunteers to play with children receiving pediatric palliative and psychosocial care in the hospitals.
Since the U.S. military had a history of periodically volunteering at KACCH, she wanted to develop a volunteering program that brought together children and soldiers by using the universal language of play. “The program brought two people from vastly different backgrounds together through the value of making a difference,” stated Azizi. “It allowed individuals to come together, based on the collective value of helping and supporting in the journey of a hospitalized child. It shows that as people we have so much more similarities than differences in our collective human journey.”
Azizi was named one of the Alumni Association 40 Under 40 Class of 2020.
“Throughout my journey, there were a great number of failures and successes and moments of resilience and moments of defeat,” said Azizi. “The recognition of 40 Under 40 Class of 2020 is a reminder for me to keep going, to keep serving, to keep finding my voice, and to continue to stay true to myself and my values. And to always, pay it forward.”
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