Making Moves At McDonough: What Gave Parents The Guts To Do An MBA

Whether you’ve taken it recently or are planning to soon, we all know that the GMAT and the GRE are both grueling experiences.

Zainab Imam, a second-year MBA student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, knows that intimately – she took the test while she was seven months pregnant.

“It definitely taught me about endurance,” Zainab laughed.

Zainab Imam and family

Before her MBA, Zainab worked for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., a job that she loved but had limited growth potential. She watched her husband pursue an MBA, which piqued her interest, but she wasn’t sure she could do it herself.

The encouragement she needed to take that next step? Her soon-to-be born daughter, Minerva.

“I thought, ‘I know – I’m having a baby. It’s not ideal to be making another huge life decision right now,” she said. “But I didn’t want Minerva to grow up in an environment where I let the fear of the unknown guide my decisions.”

So, Zainab sat for the GRE. For five hours. While pregnant.

“It was a daunting feeling, but the fact that I was becoming a mother made me want to tackle it,” she said. “It gave me the impetus and the guts to say, ‘I am going to do this.’”


When Zainab started the MBA program, her daughter was six months old. She worried that classmates might be intimidated by her identity as a parent, but the McDonough student body was quick to disprove that assumption.

“I’d wear Minerva [in a baby carrier] to cohort happy hours, and people loved playing with her,” she said. “I wanted people to see parents as MBA students, too. We’re parents, but we still socialize. We’re not intimidating.”

She said the support of other parents, like Khadijah Brydson Van and Brendan Hurley, fellow second-year students in the program, made a huge impact on her experience in the MBA. The three served on the board of McDonough’s Partners and Families Club – a group aimed at ensuring partners are included in the MBA experience and provide a support system for those with children.

Khadijah Brydson Van and family

Khadijah, who already had two twins, Virgil and Karter, was pregnant with her third child, Harmony, during her first year of the MBA. She said that the experience taught her that she can conquer anything life puts in front of her.

“My kids will look back at this experience and know that if there is something that you want, you can get it,” Khadijah said. “It was bananas. It was the most intense time of my life.”

Despite the intensity, support from Khadijah’s husband and the school made pursuing an MBA possible for her. On days that she has class, her husband handles most of the parental duties, including school pick-up and drop-off.  On the days that she doesn’t, she tries to ensure that her team meetings are virtual, so she can share in the caretaking responsibilities with her husband.

“Honestly, it’s tough. A lot of days you just don’t feel like you’ve done everything well,” Khadijah said. “My husband has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and the faculty and my cohort really went above and beyond to make sure I had what I needed.”

A major part of that was communicating her needs to her professors and project teams – early and transparently. For example, if a family situation arose that conflicted with a meeting or deliverable, she was quick to flag this for her team so they could adjust accordingly. Additionally, she said setting expectations with teammates early alleviates any tensions might arise.

Still, the experience wasn’t without its challenges. During the second semester of school, her doctor required her to be on bed rest for six weeks. In that time, Khadijah relied on her husband, loved ones, professors, and classmates for extra support. The school allowed her to take class virtually, professors worked with her to ensure she didn’t fall behind, and friends took notes on her behalf.

She gave birth to Harmony two weeks before starting her internship at PWC this past summer.


Brendan Hurley and Family

Brendan and his wife, Aryana, also welcomed a child, Caleb, in the second semester of his first year. It was January 2022, and Georgetown had just switched back to a virtual learning environment, as D.C. was enduring its largest COVID-19 wave to date.

As new parents, Brendan and Aryana were just trying to figure how to keep their newborn son alive. On top of that, Brendan was in the middle of recruiting for his summer internship.

“’Challenging’ is an easy way to describe it,” he said. “It was a huge learning curve. He taught us a lot about patience and empathy. Meanwhile, you have this identity crisis of trying to get the job. You know none of this is impossible, but it feels that way in the moment.”

Brendan said building relationships with second year MBAs who had been in his shoes – recruiting for consulting as a new parent – was “instrumental” in surviving his first year. They helped him visualize that what felt insurmountable at the time, really wasn’t.

He did land the job – an internship at Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee, WI, and recently signed his full-time offer with Rios Partners.

Brendan explained that these connections to other parents in the program are important, not just for recruiting assistance but also because many parents can feel “left out” of the MBA experience. Most MBA students are child-free, and programs primarily cater to their needs as the majority. By seeking out groups like the Georgetown Partners and Families Club, he said parents can “fill those gaps and feel more connected,” especially if they are new to the area.

Zainab Imam showing off Minerva to classmate

Despite the sleep deprivation, Brendan said there are some real benefits of having a child while in the MBA versus working. The most important one being every parent’s most valuable and limited resource: time.

“Initially, it was tough because you have pretty much no control over the class schedule the first year. It puts a lot on your partner,” he said. “But now in the second year, I have the time to spend with him. Paternity leave is short. If I was working right now, you’re committed to your work on a different scale than school.”

In addition to community support, he said the most important thing that kept him going was keeping everything in perspective.

“You think the difficult part is going to last forever, and then you take him for a bath and he’s laughing,” Brendan said. “It reminds you that it’s all short-term. You have to hold on to those moments.”

Bio: Rachel Solomon is a second-year MBA student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Prior to business school, she worked in product management at BCG and communications at Delta Air Lines. This summer, she interned at Microsoft on their Cloud Marketing team and plans to focus on product marketing after graduation. Learn more about her via her LinkedIn and blog!




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