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Inspired by family, driven to make change: Haadz Malik

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: When Haadz Malik accepts her diploma on May 15, she will be joined on campus by two of her biggest inspirations in life, her father and younger brother. It's a big day for the family, as Malik's older sister will attend commencement at UW Oshkosh where their mother, a 2020 graduate, takes part in a ceremony postponed due to COVID-19.

Blugolds often say it is their roommates, friends, classmates or professors who inspire and encourage them as they share the joys and challenges that come with studying at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Haadz Malik, who will graduate this month with a degree in marketing analytics, found much of her inspiration in her mother and sister, both of whom recently earned their own college degrees. Her mother, Huma, graduated from UW Oshkosh and her older sister, Nadia, graduated from Marquette University, both in May 2020.

While the three women attended different colleges, they shared a similar journey that included the usual ups and downs that go with life as a college student.

“I could relate to my sister and mom about assignments, deadlines and other college student experiences because they were going through it too,” Malik says. “The three of us going to college at the same time made me a stronger student. My mom’s determination inspired me a lot. While managing a home and caring for my younger brother, she once carried 23 credits in one semester and graduated with a GPA over 3.0. I still don’t know how she did it, but it helped me realize the importance of my education and hard work.”

Hard work clearly runs in the family, as Malik will graduate magna cum laude. She recently was awarded the Outstanding Marketing Graduate Award from the College of Business as well as the Excellence in Diversity Award from the Activities, Involvement and Leadership office. In addition to her degree, Malik has completed certificates in advanced business communication and sales. 

A strong and independent family role model

Born in Pakistan, Malik grew up in Oshkosh after her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. While most of her father’s family remain in Pakistan, most of her maternal relatives now live in the U.S. There are certain expectations in Pakistani culture when it comes to careers. Malik knew from an early age, however, that she did not share the family goal that she pursue a career in medicine as her sister is doing, choosing instead to become the first in her large family to pursue a degree and career in business.

“In Pakistani culture, children are often encouraged to go into the health care field,” she says. “It is an admirable field, but I was never interested. I often felt pressure to pursue the normalized career fields for Pakistanis in higher education, so when I chose business, it was a little bit of a shock that I went against the cultural norm. Although he was somewhat hesitant at first, my dad was the first to support my decision, which I am grateful for.”

Malik credits that past pressure with instilling even more drive to work hard and excel in business, along with the strong work ethic demonstrated by her father.

“When it comes to hard work and determination, my dad inspires me a lot. He took care of his entire family and managed to move his wife and kids to the United States,” Malik says. “I wanted to be like him and inspire others in my family, but in my own way.”

Malik was determined to create success on her own terms and show her younger brother and cousins how to do so.

“As the first in my family to earn a business degree, I wanted to inspire the younger ones,” Malik says. “I have about 15 cousins under the age of 18. I wanted to be a female role model who decided to make her future something she wrote for herself.”

Leaving no growth opportunity behind

One of the longest-standing programs at UW-Eau Claire for scaffolding the success of incoming students is Blugold Beginnings, a program aimed at providing targeted support and resources for underrepresented, low-income or first-generation students.

As a first-year student, Malik was matched in Blugold Beginnings with a mentor who she says became instrumental in her college experience: Jodi Thesing-Ritter, UW-Eau Claire’s executive director for diversity and inclusion. Malik credits this relationship for much of her early academic success, as well as being instrumental in securing her three pivotal internships as an upper-level student.

As Thesing-Ritter explains, Blugold Beginnings helps to connect students to all the resources available to maximize their college experience, and Malik let very few opportunities pass her by.

Jodi Thesing-Ritter and Haadz Malik

Haadz Malik (right) cites the Civil Rights Pilgrimage in 2018, led by Jodi Thesing-Ritter, as one of the most impactful experiences of her time as a Blugold. The trip follows the southern map of the civil rights movement, and included a beach stop.

“From the first day of Jumpstart Camp in August of 2017 until today, Haadz has taken advantage of every opportunity to maximize her college experience, from meaningful campus employment as a resident assistant and serving as a student senator to seeking domestic intercultural immersion travel through the Civil Rights Pilgrimage and off-campus internships at Jamf and PESI,” Thesing-Ritter says. “Haadz experienced many roadblocks along the way, but she always sought out the available resources to help her find a way around those roadblocks.”

One such roadblock Malik saw in the way of her success was the lack of a student organization within the College of Business designed for multicultural students — a space she knew could offer students of color like herself a safe place to grow professionally and ask the kinds of questions specific to issues faced by multicultural people in the world of business.

Malik found a way around that roadblock. In 2019, she established the Business Association of Multicultural Students (BAMS) and served as the organization’s president for two years.

“Serving as BAMS president allowed me to watch the organization grow from the executive board plus one member during our first year to about 20 current members. We are now like a family,” Malik says.

“My favorite part of starting BAMS was watching other students grow. For many students on our executive board, it was their first leadership role in a student organization, and watching their growth as professionals was truly an honor.” 

BAMS students, organization for multicultural students in the college of business

BAMS executive board in 2019, from left, Hannah Javoroski, Gaoki Lee, Haadz Malik, Will Xiong and Justin Ballinger

Graduating with gratitude

Along with Thesing-Ritter, Malik is grateful for support she received from sources like career counselor Lissa Greer, business lecturer Jessica Gardner and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) staff and programming, all major factors in her personal and professional growth.

“Those three women have helped me significantly throughout my college career and helped me to reach the majority of my accomplishments,” Malik says. “Lissa Greer was always an amazing listening ear and support system when I struggled to believe in myself. Jess Gardner pushed me to grow outside my comfort zone by doing sales competitions and was always very encouraging and enthusiastic to hear my plans for internships or life in general.”

In addition to those personal connections, the OMA programs and people created a broader campus network and physical place to connect with a community that also made a positive difference for Malik. Malik hopes that all incoming students take advantage of this rich source of involvement, growth and connection.

“Being involved helps us grow as individuals and become members of a community,” she says. “OMA becomes a second family; I felt surrounded by people who cared about me and understood where I was coming from as a person.”

Applying her knowledge and understanding

When Malik embarks on her career in a couple of months, she will join Accenture, a Minneapolis-based global organization specializing in technologies like artificial intelligence. In her role as a consulting development program analyst, Malik will bring to the position a broad set of business and interpersonal skills she honed at UW-Eau Claire as an engaged and interested student.

A favorite class she took as an elective has provided another cultural competency advantage Malik will bring to Accenture — a desire to understand people of all cultures.

“In that introductory sociology class with Dr. Jeff Erger, I learned to stretch my thinking,” Malik says. “I saw my own upbringing as a Pakistani American through a new lens. Unlike most other students in that class, I was able to compare my ‘American side’ with my ‘Pakistani side’ and saw in myself how different cultures all have their own way of thinking and neither is right or wrong. To move forward as a society, we must understand each other’s backgrounds.”