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March 2020

From Boardwalk to Bentley—to Bank of America

When Muhammad first came to Brooklyn from Pakistan as a 10-year-old, he spoke no English. So he regularly went to the Coney Island Boardwalk, striking up conversations with anyone who would talk with him in order to learn the language. In high school he widened his horizons by signing up for the swimming and bowling teams, though he knew neither how to swim nor how to bowl, as well as for the chess club, though he didn’t know how to play the game. That sense of challenging himself to succeed in ever-widening worlds has continued as he nears graduation — with a year of study in London as part of his record — and prepares to enter the world of finance.

His first steps into that world were part of his pattern of exploration and challenge. “In my senior year” at Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences in Brooklyn “my calculus teacher started a finance club,” he recalls. “I had never heard of it, and didn’t think it was for people like me.” But soon he was hooked. He became fascinated with the world of economics and finance, and enrolled at Bentley University, a suburban Boston campus focused on business. “I knew that I wanted to come here because I wanted to learn more about this world that was foreign to me, to understand more of the implications of this mysterious thing” that affects everybody.  

Bentley’s focus on business and accounting basics and its small classes were rewarding, Muhammad said. But in his sophomore year, he recalls, “I wanted a change of routine, a more international perspective on finance.” And in competing for internships he had found that his climb was steeper than that faced by students from more widely known schools. He had been successful in the internship search — a summer in the commercial bank at JP Morgan Chase was especially rewarding — but he decided that some horizon-broadening was in order.

That led him — with the aid of a special scholarship to study abroad — to spend his junior year at the London School of Economics studying finance, history and philosophy. It was a major adjustment. Where Bentley’s classes were small and practical, with access to professors assured, all classes at L.S.E. were lectures, usually to a class of 500 or so. Each course lasted for the entire academic year, and the rigorous focus was on economic theory, although professors might comment on current economic developments. Muhammad found the intellectually rigorous L.S.E. courses, in which the major assignments were the midterm and final exams, “extremely academically rewarding.” Another striking difference between the campuses was the variety of internationally known speakers who were frequent visitors to the L.S.E. lecture halls.  

Returning to Bentley for his senior year, Muhammad had an unwelcome surprise: a job that he was expecting to await him on graduation would not be available. This was a jolt, but one of the first places he turned to as he began his job search was Scholarship Plus. In his sophomore year, he said, when he began looking for internships, “I was in touch with Anna and Kate throughout the spring — they probably connected me with 20 to 30 people. Because of Scholarship Plus I was connected to a huge network of people.” And once again, he said of the Scholarship Plus staff, “Especially through the down times, they have been crucial, and so helpful to me.”  

“I cannot recall the number of cases,“ Muhammad said, “where I have needed help and the Scholarship Plus community was the first place I turned. When I have achieved some sort of success, I hope to return the favor.” 

In early July, Muhammad is to report to the Bank of America Tower overlooking Bryant Park at 42nd Street. He will be working in the Global Transaction Services area, which provides such things as liquidity, supply-chain financing and foreign exchange analysis and assistance for the company’s international clients. While he thinks that his eventual interests are more on the asset management side of the business, the job he begins the summer will be an excellent way of getting to know the organization. Once again, he will begin exploring — and mastering — another new world.

Next: A Winter Reunion