Why This Rochester Simon Student Left A Promising Law Career For An MBA

Business school wasn’t in Husnah Khan’s plans. Having graduated from law school in 2018, she planned to work on wrongful conviction cases; eventually she hoped to become a judge. While studying for the bar exam, she worked at a high-profile law firm.

But something shifted when Khan found out she passed the bar. She expected to feel elated about the future; instead, she was overcome by a sense of shock.

“I remember sobbing over the steering wheel of my car when I realized that I passed,” she says. It was at that moment that she realized, “This isn’t what I wanted — this is what I thought I wanted.”

She knew: What she’d been working toward for so many years wasn’t the right path for her. It was time to find a new direction.

UNEXPECTED CHANGES

Rochester Simon MBA student Husnah Khan: “At the end of my life, I want to look back and see the legacy that I’ve created, not in terms of the jobs that I’ve held, but in the sense of, ‘Whose lives have I impacted? Did I make a difference on this Earth?’”

Now, at 34, Khan is a first-year MBA student at the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School. This summer she’ll be in Seattle, working as an intern in Microsoft’s human resources department. “If you had asked me a year ago if I had seen any of this happening, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she says.

Khan has loved her time at Simon so far, especially her classmates and the community she’s found. An emphasis on accepting students from an “atypical background” drew her to the program, as did the welcoming environment she was met with when she first visited Simon for a weekend program back in 2019. “No matter what background you come from, you can succeed, because the school wants you to succeed, your peers want you to do well,” she says.

She knows about unexpected changes — good and bad. When Khan was 5 years old, her father moved the family from the UK to work for his older brother’s healthcare company in Michigan. But in 2001, the company was raided by the FBI. “His brother was committing healthcare fraud,” Khan says. Her father was drawn into a long legal case, with devastating and long-lasting impacts for her family. “My father found it difficult to find work,” she says. “Our community shunned us, we experienced multiple evictions, and we had to rely on food stamps to survive.”

Through her father’s legal struggles, Khan saw a need for changes to the legal system; she also saw the damaging effects legal peril can have on families. It inspired her to pursue a career in law — to help those who had been adversely affected by the system. Eventually, however, she would recognize the toll working in law took on her mental health due to the trauma of her family’s own experiences with the legal system.

IF YOU CAN DO SOMETHING TO HELP THOSE IN NEED, ‘DO IT’

From a young age, Husnah Khan always wanted to help people. “I think that’s my life’s calling,” she says. She credits this to her parents: Khan’s father is originally from Afghanistan, and her mother is Malaysian. “Despite the issues that my parents faced, you know, I always saw them help others,” she says.

She described one instance in college when her dad was driving her back to campus and stopped to get gas. “My dad had $5 in his pocket to put gas in the car … And he saw a woman who was crying in her car, and he handed her the $5. Because she had no money for gas.” She asked her father how they were going to make it the rest of the way now that he’d given away their gas money. “The angels are going to push the car,” he told her.

“That’s who my dad is,” Khan says, “When you see somebody else in need, and if you can do something to help that other person, do it.” She carries that mentality with her, and no matter what field she ends up in, she wants to use her skills and experience to help others.

LIVES TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

In August 2010, just as she was returning home from a summer abroad completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford after four years at the University of Michigan, Khan’s father was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His past association with his brother’s company had left him unable to gain full American citizenship. He was held in a detention facility for a year and a half, then deported to the UK in 2011.

“It was like somebody had taken an hourglass and turned it and my whole life had been turned upside down,” Khan said. She put aside her professional aspirations and her plan to go to graduate school — in the shock of her father’s detainment Khan completely forgot that she has just been accepted to a Master’s program in English at Oxford — and instead worked minimum wage jobs to support her family. Working multiple service jobs with long hours late into the night with her father in a detention facility facing deportation, Khan said writing poetry and performing at local open mic nights was her “saving grace” during the yearlong period.

Years later, while in law school at Wayne State University, Khan interned at the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, where she played an instrumental role in securing a new trial for then-incarcerated client Mubarez Ahmed, which led to him being freed after 17 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

At the Innocence Clinic, Khan witnessed the damage incarceration has on families, particularly children of incarcerated parents — something she’d struggled with herself when her father was detained by ICE. “When I was going through [that], I felt very isolated,” she says. She decided she would start a nonprofit to support children of incarcerated parents to provide them with access to resources such as education and employment opportunities.

But she was missing some of the skills, resources, and connections needed to launch and run a nonprofit organization that would make a significant impact. She realized that business school would be the best way for her to fill these gaps. When she started looking into MBA programs, she worried whether she’d be able to keep up in the math-heavy classes. But she also knew that this was exactly why she should go for it — business school would be an opportunity to challenge herself, learn new skills, and hone in on areas that might not come easily to her. “I said, ‘I’m going to take this leap of faith, because I know that I need to acquire new skills and I need to strengthen the ones that I currently have,’” Khan says, explaining that her time at Simon has challenged her in new ways and shown her that she’s capable of more than she knew.

‘DID I MAKE A DIFFERENCE ON THIS EARTH?’

It’s also broadened her view of what her future might look like. When she first started business school, she planned to immediately go back to working on creating a nonprofit once she graduated. While she is still planning to revisit this in the future, she said she may hold off for a while and work in the business sector in the meantime.

Now she’s looking forward to her internship and Microsoft and is excited about the opportunity to work in human resources and advocate for people in new ways. Since starting at Simon, she’s felt a new sense of confidence in her ability to be heard and make powerful change happen. “Coming to business school, everybody’s voice is heard because you’re in a program that favors speaking up, being an advocate, and entering into healthy dialogue and debate,” she says, adding, “and businesspeople are seen as change-makers.”

What drives Husnah Khan is making positive changes in the lives of others.

“At the end of my life,” she says, “I want to look back and see the legacy that I’ve created, not in terms of the jobs that I’ve held, but in the sense of, ‘Whose lives have I impacted? Did I make a difference on this Earth?’”

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