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Alumni Spotlight: Ishrain Hussain Crashes Through Cultural, Professional Barriers

By Keith Morelli

Ishrain Hussain

TAMPA (July 6, 2017) -- A simple note on the Facebook page of University of South Florida alumna Ishrain Hussain appeared at midnight on June 12:

"Moved to Penang, Malaysia."

The gregarious 2015 graduate of the Muma College of Business had just taken the next step in a life that has been full of turns.

Born in Kolkata, India, and brought up in Mumbai, Hussain was raised in a conservative Muslim tradition and she's the first female in her family to go to college and the first to earn a bachelor's degree in electronic engineering. After graduating from Nagpur University, she found work as a functional analyst for two years, but longed for more.

"Life in Mumbai was hectic," she said. "I took three local trains and two auto rickshaws – more than an hour – to reach my workplace. I would see Facebook posts of my classmates, working in the States, travelling the world and buying their dream cars. I was definitely not satisfied with where my career was taking me, so I decided to improve my skills by pursuing a master's degree.

"I heard about USF through word of mouth and online reviews," said the 27-year-old graduate of the business analytics/information systems program, earning a master's degree in management information systems. She spent extra hours in her office after work every day to study for the graduate exams and shared her plans to study in the United States only after she started receiving acceptance letters from universities.

"My parents had apprehensions about my decision because we didn't know anyone in the United States," she said. "My father faced a lot of resistance from our relatives, I am sure it was difficult for him to support my decision.

"My father's permission for me to attend the same English speaking school as my brother and male cousins laid the basic foundation I would later need to pursue my dreams," she said. "Now, my younger female cousins look up to me and want to spread their wings as well. I hope they do."

Moving from India to the United States was a difficult task, she said, and that didn't take into account the logistics of travel and red tape of government.

Hussain arrived in Tampa at 2 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2014, but her Fairway Oaks apartment lease didn't start until Aug. 14. She had just arrived in a strange country, knew no one and was homeless, at least for two days.

Greeted at the airport by a member of the Students of India Association, Hussain was escorted to another student's apartment where she stayed until her apartment became available.

After just two semesters at USF, she landed an IT internship with Jabil, a global manufacturing services giant headquartered in St. Petersburg. The internship extended into the fall for Hussain, who worked as a research analyst.

"Jabil also sent me to San Jose Blue Sky Center during my internship, which is a rare and wonderful opportunity to learn about Jabil's Internet of Things," she said. As a Jabil intern, she also worked with the company's IT communications team using Google Analytics to provide metrics on the number of clicks and page views of Jabil's newsletter.

Her internships and hard work paid off with a full-time job at the multi-national Jabil and enrollment in a company leadership development program, on a highly competitive, three-year rotational schedule.

"I rotate in a different department each year for better understanding of Jabil business," she said. "The first year was in the U.S." she said, "second year is in Penang, Malaysia, and third year, back to the U.S."

Hussain's supervisor and mentor at Jabil, Charity Wenben, is impressed with the work Hussain is doing and says she is a good fit for the company's leadership program.

"Her passion, energy and honesty inspires others," Wenben said. "That is an extremely rare gift for many people; to be able to inspire and motivate people. They are qualities of a leader and influencer."

Hussain's upbringing, education and work ethic have resulted in a philosophy of giving back.

"I make sure to always reply to queries from students applying to USF," she said. "I get messages on my YouTube channel, Facebook and LinkedIn saying, 'Your prompt and positive reviews about life in the U.S. and USF drove me to accept admittance at USF.' These responses make me feel accomplished."

It's important to stay grounded and humble, she said.

"It's the people around you who help you grow," she said. "I have been very blessed with having the right people around me. My parents, professors, colleagues, friends are my biggest strength and they keep me going."

What keeps Hussain happy? For some, happiness is travelling or reading, she said.

"For me, it's my job," she said. "At college, most of my friends were good at core programming. I wasn't. People said programmers get paid the most, so I explored that field. I soon found out that I hated it.

"I am glad I was honest to myself and the recruiter at the career fair who put me in the right place of my interest," she said. "I might not be the highest paid employee, but I love my job and my loyalty to Jabil is unconditional because my work ethic aligns directly to the Jabil culture."

Reaching out to new friends also plays a part in making Hussain's life rewarding. It's a practice that dates back to her time in the Muma College of Business, when she made a concerted effort to immerse herself in the American experience.

"I came out of my comfort zone and made foreign friends instead of remaining in the Indian community cocoon," she said. "The best way to learn the culture is by living with the locals. I was determined to make non-Indian 'best friends' and not just acquaintances.

"For this, I didn't have to change myself at all. I stayed as Indian as I am. I would cook Indian food and invite my friends over and this initiated a trend in our circle of friends. Italian friends cooked Italian and Turkish friends cooked Turkish, and we would all feast.

Stepping out of her comfort zone now is a way of life for Hussain, who always is on the lookout for new experiences, like moving to Malaysia, for example.

"I am always up for new adventures," she said. "I believe in empirical experiences because you don't know what you don't know until you explore the unknown."