By Jamie Ghazaii
Originally I was going to be a foreign service officer. That was my dream entering Lehigh University. So I chose to major in international relations.
But then I qualified for the Global Entrepreneurial Fellowship with Lehigh@NasdaqCenter and the Baker Institute. I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be an intern with a tech marketing start-up in Dubai. In short order I started to learn about business and my career ambitions shifted. I discovered that marketing would be a better fit for me.
Yes, I could still do the same research and analysis I would have done as a foreign service officer. But marketing would also unleash my creativity. And that’s what drew me in, the opportunity to flex my imagination.
Let’s call that my first big “aha” moment.
But wait. It got better. In my senior year, I participated in Lehigh@NasdaqCenter’s Silicon Valley Innovation Internship in San Francisco. There, I listened to guest speakers ranging from leaders at established companies such as Adobe, Lyft, and Facebook to freshly minted startups, absorbing insights and advice.
I also took on a real-life, high-stakes assignment for a cybersecurity company. Our team faced the challenge of troubleshooting staffing solutions. We had to formulate new key performance indicators that would measure employee efficiency, especially among the organization’s highly valued analysts. Ideally, our strategy would ensure a higher retention rate.
Our “client” gave us all of 24 hours to study the situation at issue and present our case to senior management. Right there on the spot, the company agreed to implement our plan.
That’s what happens once you get to be hands-on. If you’re seated in a classroom, you can listen to a professor lecture brilliantly about the subject at hand.
But until you actually have a chance to apply the lesson yourself – and accomplish something personally – it’s all words. You have no idea whether you can pull it off until you give it a shot.
Big “aha” moment number two.
My internships with Lehigh@NasdaqCenter also taught me how to network, particularly through Lehigh University alumni. As a result, I now have a full-time job buying social media ads at a digital marketing agency named Wpromote. Just recently I was promoted from coordinator to associate manager.
Now let me flashback a few years for a minute. My early education involved attendance at what I might characterize as the University of Mom. All through my childhood in our low-income family, she always hustled. My mother, a native of Puerto Rico, cleaned houses, styled hair in funeral homes and, after earning her high school equivalency degree, practiced as a nurse assistant. But she went beyond setting an inspiring example. She also encouraged me – always – to go all-out in school.
From my mother, then, as much as from any professor or CEO I know, I learned something priceless – that entrepreneurship is the key to escaping the cycle of poverty that traps so many minority women. Thanks to her, I’m a first-generation college graduate.
In my few after-hours, I’ve also started my own side hustle. All my life, I’ve trained as a dancer. My mother made sure my sister and I, as toddlers and then through high school, took dance classes in ballet, jazz and hip-hop. I even founded a dance team at Lehigh University.
After graduation last year, I detected a marketing opportunity and experienced my third big “aha” moment. I recognized that other young dancers, whether just starting careers or already established, faced unique difficulties getting ahead. They needed to belong to an organization that would create a sense of close-knit community – and more specifically, find studios where they could practice, find out about tryouts, forge friendships with other dancers and better pursue professional opportunities.
So I founded La Ola, a Latin dance event planning, promotion and hosting company. Already the start-up has built a following of about 500 dancers, with three events in New Jersey and Pennsylvania scheduled for this summer and fall.
I’d like to take La Ola full-time. And so far so good. But as with dance itself, I’m choreographing my career as an entrepreneur one step at a time.
# # #
Jamie Ghazaii is an associate manager at Wpromote, a digital marketing agency, and co-founder of La Ola, a Latin dance event planning, promotion, and hosting company. Jamie graduated from Lehigh University in 2021 with a BA in International Relations.