From GW Today Jan. 9, 2012
Scheherazade Rehman teaches her students more than just international business and finance.
Scheherazade Rehman hates the word “gonna.” If you’re going to do something, she says just do it.
“In life, we always say, ‘when I get this, I’ll do this,’” said Dr. Rehman, B.A. ’85, M.B.A. ’89, Ph.D. ’92, professor of international business, finance and international affairs at the George Washington School of Business and the Elliott School of International Affairs. “But when you get that, you always have something else to do—so whatever it is, do it now.”
A former foreign exchange trader, Dr. Rehman traveled with her family, growing up in various locations across Europe, Africa and Asia. She spent the first half of her career in Bahrain working as a foreign exchange trader, a job that she said prepared her for a life of taking calculated risks in the business world.
“I like taking risks,” said Dr. Rehman. “You do your homework, but then you have to roll the dice.”
Switching from a career as a trader to teaching was one of those risks. Dr. Rehman was going to accept a position with the International Monetary Fund in 1991, but during a night out a group of GW professors convinced her to apply her outside-the-box critical thinking skills to education.
“I took their advice and never looked back,” said Dr. Rehman, who has taught international finance and business at GW for the past 21 years.
One of her favorite parts of teaching is setting an example for her students.
“You show the students that at the same time you’re teaching them, you’re out there in the world doing something,” said Dr. Rehman. “It’s a combination of living a good life and leaving a footprint behind you. And it doesn’t matter what level of student we’re talking about—you have to lead by example.”
And she has done just that. As a senior research Fulbright scholar, she has become an expert on international markets and financial crises. She has advised the finance ministers of China and Russia, among others. She has testified before Congress multiple times and has published seven books about the financial sector. On top of all that, she runs a non-governmental organization dedicated to environmental and economic sustainability. She regularly travels to Kenya to help impoverished families by bringing medical assistance and sustainable drinking water systems to regions that have very little.
“I always tell my students, ‘There will be a time in your life when you will be extremely effective in what you do, and you will make a lot of money—don’t squander the wealth on five Mercedes. There’s no point. There’s a lot more going on out there,’” she said. “Giving back is something we try very hard to instill in our students. You can’t teach personal ethics, but we can open students’ eyes to the benefits of giving back.”
Dr. Rehman’s attraction to risk taking has made an impact in her teaching strategies. In her Global Financial Markets course students learn financial theories in part by trading with each other in a real-time hypothetical financial trading simulation. The simulation has a zero-sum grading system—if one student succeeds on the trading floor his or her grade benefits accordingly at the expense of another student.
“You literally go into the classroom and say, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen today,’ and it’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s a real-life experiment. I would like for students to understand what is happening out there in the world and make the connection with business and finance theories.”
And risk taking isn’t only a successful strategy in the classroom or on Wall Street. Taking risks is important in everyday life, Dr. Rehman said.
“Every two years, I think you should do something that really scares you because it keeps you real and grounded,” she said. “I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I go shark diving. On my resume, if I had to add a line about my objective in life, it would be to overcome all my small and large fears.”
As director of the GW European Union Research Center, Dr. Rehman is sought after for her expertise on the global financial crisis. She has guest hosted on CNBC and appeared on PBS, NPR, BBC, Al-Jazeera and C-SPAN.
“I really enjoy the hour-long NPR shows, such as On Point and The Diane Rehm Show,” Dr. Rehman said. “The discussion is deep and thoughtful, and the hosts are very well versed on the topics. They know what’s really going on. It’s not done in two-minute sound bites.”
Last year, she was invited to appear on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, an interview she said was one of the “coolest” she has done.
“He’s a brilliant man, even though he pretends not to be. To be a political satirist, you have to know the issues very well,” said Dr. Rehman.
Her students look to Dr. Rehman as a role model both inside and out of the classroom.
“What makes her unique is her ability to make complex topics easily digestible,” said Tochi Lazarevic, a student in GWSB’s World Executive MBA Program. “Her passion is infectious, and her teaching style is highly interactive. She is someone who ‘walks the talk.’”