EPIC Spotlight: Ahmad Shah Mobariz

It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when ignorance about something changes one’s life trajectory for the better.

For Ahmad Shah Mobariz, it was the abbreviations of words not in his native language. Back in 2009, he didn’t use a computer, and internet accessibility was a rare phenomenon in his home country of Afghanistan. Coming from uneducated families, with no instructions from the scholarship providers, Ahmad did the best he could without any help. When he signed up for a scholarship that he thought was for a bachelor of arts (BA) in law and political science – a passion of his at the time – it turned out it was for a bachelor of business management (BBM) degree. Instead of forfeiting the scholarship, he forged through.

But a book made him realize that, perhaps, this was the right path all along. The book was Target 3 Billion: Innovative Solutions Towards Sustainable Development by A.P.J. Abul Kalam, the former president of India and an aerospace scientist. Kalam’s book detailed how to eradicate poverty through entrepreneurship and providing urban amenities in rural areas. Ahmad discovered a purpose.

Now Ahmad is not only an economics Ph.D. student at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, he’s a Fulbright Scholar through a program created by former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, a University of Arkansas alum. As of January, Mobariz is president of Fulbright Scholars at the University of Arkansas, an organization with 54 members that includes current Fulbright scholars and Fulbright alumni at the University of Arkansas.

Ahmad grew up in a farming family in a province neighboring Kabul, Afghanistan. When he was 9 years old, the Taliban invaded his town, forcing the family to move to Kabul.

Following high school graduation, Ahmad received an Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholarship, a program sponsored by the Indian government and earned his bachelor’s degree in business management at a college affiliated with Bangalore University in the state of Karnataka, India. He continued his education at South Asian University, an international university established by members of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperating in New Delhi, where he earned a master’s degree in development economics. From there, he worked for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance as an economist, but he aspired to continue his education in the United States where he could experience diverse cultures. The Fulbright program, if he were accepted, could provide that dream. And it did. After he researched a variety of American schools, he applied and was accepted into the economics doctoral program at the University of Arkansas. Coincidentally, it was the school attended by Fulbright and where he also served as the institution’s president for two years.

Ahmad’s commute to Fayetteville from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport near Bentonville made him think he was moving to an area of a vast farmland as the commute includes a few miles on rural highways to get to Interstate 49. “When I first landed, I kind of wished I could have some cows and animals I could raise,” he jokes.

But once he got to Fayetteville and stepped on the University of Arkansas campus, he perked up. He found everyone to be friendly, and he marveled at the facilities at Walton, especially Willard J. Walker Hall. He spent much of his first year at Walton in the Graduate Studies Room when he wasn’t reaching out to his professors, whom he finds very accessible.

“We can talk to any professor, unlike those at large programs,” he says. “Here, at the economics program, I know everyone.”

Logan Miller, Nathaniel Burke and James Willbanks are three economics Ph.D. “folks” at Walton whom Ahmad calls “family.”

Ahmad says Walton is “The Queen of Colleges” for its facilities. “It’s incomparable to other colleges,” he says.

In fact, he says he finds himself missing Fayetteville whenever he leaves town.

“It’s quiet,” he says. “Towns like Fayetteville are a great place to study.”

He has made new friends through Fulbright Scholars at the University of Arkansas association, which was founded in 2011 as an initiative to enable Fulbright Scholars on campus to network with each other. The organization also aims to honor the legacy of U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright through a cultural exchange worldwide. Ahmad stays busy as its president, a position he holds until the end of this year. The association holds small events on campus, including Friendsgiving and celebrations on other occasions.

Ahmad is also researching development projects in Afghanistan, including what drives the country’s gender gap in education, especially higher education. He is interested in research that guides development policy, particularly in developing countries.

Though he has plenty to keep him busy, he also has another favorite subject: cats. “I talk to them when I see them,” he says, smiling.

Ahmad also runs regularly. His mantra for academic success is “run, read and research!”