Determination leads Syria native to new opportunities

Half a world away from the civil war taking place in her home country, Rawan Al-Zarrad recently completed the two graduate degrees she has worked toward for the past two and a half years. She left Syria amid a financial climate marked by widespread poverty and economic instability, searching for a better opportunity, and found just that during her time at TU.

Al-Zarrad’s journey to the U.S. began when her husband was applying for admission to a doctoral program. With a destination set once he accepted a spot at OU-Tulsa, Al-Zarrad initiated her own search for a graduate program and enrolled in TU’s dual MBA and Master of Finance degrees.

In addition to her studies, she jumped right in to campus involvement by joining the Student Finance Association. The group makes an annual trip to Chicago to tour the Federal Reserve and the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. Advisory Research CEO Chris Crawshaw (BSBA ’88) also invited the students to visit his investment firm and learn more about asset management. “I fell in love with the city and the whole experience,” said Al-Zarrad.

With a desire to learn more about the investment work at Advisory Research, Al-Zarrad set out to secure an internship with the firm. She learned Crawshaw was visiting campus and made a point to introduce herself and inquire about working there during the summer. “She was the picture of perseverance and determination, which is what it takes to succeed in this environment,” said Crawshaw. “This industry is hyper-competitive — not only for full-time jobs, but also internships. She’s a great example of making a decision and pursuing it.”

Al-Zarrad interviewed for the position and was hired for a summer internship. Though she faced initial challenges — like relocating to an unfamiliar city, finding a roommate and learning to navigate the public transportation system — the experience she gained through the process was invaluable.

As part of the firm’s international team, Al-Zarrad spent much of her time researching potential investment targets. She studied the companies’ financials, performance and future projects — anything that would affect future stock performance — and presented reports summarizing her findings. “It was my first time using Bloomberg and a few other tools, plus my first time being exposed to real-life analysis,” said Al-Zarrad. “I was able to improve my communication and presentation skills while gaining exposure to the international market.”

Crawshaw says that hiring Al-Zarrad benefited his firm as well. “She did a nice job understanding the academic underpinnings and being able to apply those in a real-world scenario. That’s not always easy to do. This was nothing but a positive experience for all.”

During her final semester, Al-Zarrad was elected to serve as student executive officer of the Student Investment Fund, TU’s student-managed investment portfolio that stands at more than $4.5 million. In fact, she is the first female to lead the group. “It’s very similar to what I was doing during my internship,” she said. “It’s been a great bridge between my time at Advisory Research and finishing my degree at TU. It’s also an honor to be the first female chosen to lead the Student Investment Fund.”

She took and passed Level I of the Chartered Financial Analyst exam in Syria, and soon hopes to complete Level II. “The courses you take at TU prepare you to study for the CFA exam,” she said. “You get exposed to the material and can practice before taking the exam — it’s very helpful.”

Al-Zarrad leaves TU having extended her network by staying involved in organizations like Friends of Finance and participating in TU’s mentorship program. “I’ve met so many great people, and TU has been fantastic. I came here knowing no one, and now I have a huge network.”