2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Farheen Ahmed, Penn State (Smeal)

Farheen Ahmed

Penn State University, Smeal College of Business

“Resilient, sets high standards for herself and pushes those around her to level up.”

Hometown: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Fun fact about yourself: I participated in the Marine Corps Immersion experience at Quantico……returned home little less than a 100 percent but learned that I was as tough as nails.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University to Bradford: Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Sciences with a specialization in Medical Biochemistry

Penn State University (Eberly College of Science): Masters of Biotechnology

Penn State University (Smeal College of Business): Masters of Business Administration (MBA)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school: Before joining Smeal in Fall 2018, I worked at The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research as a smallpox virologist developing vaccines for their Infectious Disease Program. One of my goals when I graduated with my Masters in Biotechnology was to build something that made the lives of others better. To that end, I had always been fascinated by viruses. When I got the opportunity to be trained as a virologist, I jumped at it because I could use my training to do good and potentially save lives.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? I interned at Bayer in Whippany New Jersey

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon, in their Pathways Leadership Development Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • MBA Fellowship, Smeal College of Business
  • Vice President of Finance, The Supply Chain Management Association – Worked to host supply chain mixers, experiential learning workshops, resume guidance and interview coaching
  • Case Competitions, Part of the winning team for the first MBA case competition, second place on the Chevron Case Competition

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Applying for internships and jobs during the MBA was challenging given my pure science background and newness to the business side of things. I worked extremely hard to understand who I was in the business world and what I wanted to do…essentially find my voice. Through B-school and my internship, I got really good at communicating, interviewing, and sharing my passion. It gave me immense pleasure to help others find their voice by helping them share their stories. I coached students for their MBA college interviews as well as job application and interview processes, and many of them received offers from their dream schools and companies. While this was not an official academic experience or extracurricular role, it is what I am most proud of because I was able to use my knowledge to lift people up!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Millions of people die from malaria each year and the current vaccines have at best 30-40% efficacy. I always wanted to do my part to save the world and the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries were the way I envisioned I would be able to do that. Personal motivation struck when I personally knew individuals who were deployed and were affected by the disease. The need for action was enhanced and, to that end, I spent six years developing two smallpox-based malaria vaccines at The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Individuals who benefit from a vaccine of this type would be the warfighter (soldiers deployed to places like Thailand, Africa, and the Asian subcontinent) and people in malaria-endemic countries. The reason I am proud of this achievement is that the protein expressions for this vaccine were higher than those of current vaccines, which means the potential for it translating to a cure is high.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Smeal loves embracing the various backgrounds of its students – it has platforms that allow us to celebrate people for who they are.  My favorite tradition is that we come together as a family to partake in celebrations which help us understand the culture and ways of those who celebrate holidays different from us. We celebrate days that are important to people from various countries such as Lunar New Year, Diwali, Dia de los Muertos, Thanksgiving, and the like. The school creates a welcoming and open environment, which is crucial in this political climate and helps people showcase their cultures in a proud manner.

Why did you choose this business school? As someone who had never taken a single business course in her life and had wanted to switch careers from science to business, I wanted a small program and close-knit community because I wanted to learn from my peers, form life-long bonds and friendships and know my professors personally. Being part of a small cohort would allow me to be my passionate, excitable self and I wanted the opportunity to meet and know my classmates more than just superficially. I  learn best in such an environment. I also wanted to have access to Penn State’s large (and might I add very responsive) alumni network because I believe that we can learn so much from those who have walked in our shoes. My mentors and confidants are individuals I met through the alumni network!

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? My best advice is to first be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve with an MBA. Once you’re there, be sure to get to know the students! Talk to those in the current classes, attend class during preview days, immerse yourself in the environment that you would like to adapt for the next two years, or attend the online webinars to get a good picture of what you are signing up for.

What is the biggest myth about your school? You will meet people who will remain with you for the rest of your life. This could not have been truer. I’ve met some of the most brilliant and kind people I have ever known and I can’t wait to see how we change the world!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I’ve enjoyed every moment of my experience in the program. One thing I would do differently is I would have spent more time getting to know my classmates in the first year. The first year tends to be busy and it is easy to get caught up working. It is important to remember that it’s the relationships and network we build that we carry with us forever. I got to know these wonderful people later than I could have. Now that I know how much I enjoy our time together, I wish I had done this sooner.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Godspower Akala, or GP. He’s someone who taught me the importance of being self-aware not only of my weaknesses but also my strengths. He’s capable, kind, always positive, and someone who goes above-and-beyond to help anyone who needs it. I’m someone who expects perfection in everything I do and am extremely critical of myself. GP taught me the importance of being more balanced in life (learning to relax and enjoy the experiences instead of always being focused on the end goal). I admire his ability to remain calm, positive, and keep on putting his best foot forward.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My first boss and mentor Captain Dr. Kevin D. Hauns. He built me up into someone who was bold, confident, and capable of handling anything that came my way. I learned how one can stand their ground and fight for what they believe in and yet be kind and want what’s best for those people in your life from him. When I outgrew the environment I was in, he motivated me to move onto the next big thing and keep going onto doing bigger better things.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Be CEO of my women’s fashion startup and use that venture to help women in transition.
  2. Establish an investment portfolio that contains real-estate assets that provide a source as passive income.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope they remember me as a passionate leader (particularly on topics such as healthcare, gender equity) but more importantly as someone who was a kind, fun, reliable, thoughtful classmate/ friend who will always be there when they need me (all they’d need to do is call).

Hobbies? I love spending my free time working out, painting, reading fiction novels, listening to podcasts of people who are changing the world one try at a time, traveling and collecting memories, and playing with my cats.

What made Farheen such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“From day one, Farheen has embodied the resilience, integrity, grit, and love of community that is central to the Penn State Smeal MBA culture. She quickly got involved with the Supply Chain Association, and in her leadership role, there was always thinking about her classmates, sharing opportunities, and helping those around her with job searches, mock interviews, and coaching. Her humility and truly caring nature are inspiring to everyone around her, and I can’t imagine the class without her influence.”

Michael Waldhier
MBA Managing Director


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.