Malak Abdel-Hadi MBOE

Undergraduate students everywhere share a common experience: eventually, they all must decide which degree program to pursue and what major to declare.   

Malak Abdel-Hadi headshot
Malak Abdel-Hadi

For some students, it’s an easy choice — they’ve known from an early age what they wanted to be when they grow up. For others, there’s a revelation that occurs after a few semesters on campus as they discover a passion they never knew about. 

And then there’s those who struggle to decide. They meander through course offerings and wander from classroom to classroom never quite feeling as if they belong anywhere, until one day, time and finances force them to make a choice. By then, it’s not necessarily about what the degree is in, it’s about graduating with a degree. Any degree.  

Malak Abdel-Hadi (BA ’13) fell into the latter category, struggling to find her academic fit as an undergraduate student. Family pressure and cultural considerations contributed to a complicated undergraduate journey, but Malak, now pursuing a Master of Business Operational Excellence degree at Fisher, says she’s stronger because of those early obstacles. 

Born and raised 

Malak and her family are Palestinian refugees. She was born in Kuwait and her family lived in Jordan when her grandfather sponsored their immigration to the United States. Malak was eight years old when she, her mom and younger brother settled into a quintessential suburban neighborhood on Columbus’ northwest side and started their journey towards a safer and more stable life in America.  

Malak Abdel-Hadi youth 2
Malak as a child.

“It was hard,” Malak says of their assimilation. “We didn’t speak English and here I was, in America — surrounded by a society full of equality and opportunity — but I was being raised in a conservative Middle Eastern household where opportunities for women to grow and excel are limited.”  

Growing up, it was inevitable that as her exposure to those opportunities increased, so too, would her understanding of what she could become. It wasn’t long before she found herself conflicted and living in two different worlds. In the one she loved and respected, she was navigating the constant pressure of pleasing her family. But in the other, her personal growth and inquisitive nature blossomed, and she saw a future filled with her own individual goals and dreams.  

Malak Abdel-Hadi high school
Malak as a high school athlete.

“I was always under constant pressure to fit into a traditional role despite my desire for gender equality,” she says. "As the oldest child, and the oldest grandchild, I wanted to be the first person in my family to earn an undergraduate degree.”   

Her undergraduate journey 

In an effort to please her mom, Malak started her Ohio State undergraduate program in the sciences and ultimately set her sights on becoming a dentist.  

“In the Middle Eastern culture, you are raised to please your parents,” she says. “I was going to do my best to become what my mom expected.”  

But things didn’t quite go as planned. Malak readily admits she’s always struggled with math and science, which made becoming a dentist even more challenging.  

“I was trying hard to be something I simply couldn’t be,” she says. "I jumped around from one degree program to another searching for a perfect fit.”  

Minoring in Arabic, she ultimately reached the point where taking a few more classes could turn her minor into her major; and that’s what she did, graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013. 

Natural curiosity 

While earning her undergraduate degree, Malak worked for a health care staffing agency and says this is where she found her career connection and passion. On one of her assignments for the staffing agency, she designed, developed and conducted new client orientations, and revamped the onboarding processes for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. 

“I was always the person who came up with the better, more efficient idea,” she says. "But I often wondered if these processes would last after I left.”  

Currently, Malak works for the Wexner Medical Center’s Graduate Medical Education office, where she utilizes her problem-solving and workflow management skills as an institutional coordinator.  

“When there’s a clog in the system, I create a new process,” she says. “Where there’s a problem, I develop a work-around to ensure we meet compliance regulations.”  

Gradually, her natural curiosity kicked in.  

“I found myself wondering more and more about the sustainability of my work — what happens if I move on,” she says. “Will the person who comes after me have to reinvent the wheel?”  

She also started to get the urge to continue her education but had some reluctance about returning to school.  

“I was a bit traumatized after my undergraduate experience,” she says. “I didn’t want to bounce around again and waste time and money trying to find the program that aligned with my interests, skills and future goals. I looked at the Master in Health Administration but wasn’t sure I wanted to be so specific to a particular industry. Then I thought about an MBA, but it still didn’t seem to be the right fit.”  

Thankfully, Malak’s mentor, Suzanne Hoholik (MBOE ’14), encouraged her to explore the program.  

“MBOE is 100% transparent,” Malak says. "The schedule is planned out for the entire year, the expectations are clear, I knew I would have personalized attention from my MBOE coach, prospective students are encouraged to participate in a ‘preview day,’ so I actually sat-in on a class and saw exactly what it would be like. Heading into this program, nothing was unknown — there wasn’t a single aspect of this program that I was uncomfortable with.”  

“Where I belong” 

MBOE is a program focused on preparing leaders to design and manage at various levels within their organizations, equipping them to create an organizational culture where everyone is continuously learning, improving and remaining committed to its purpose every day. 

“I cannot say enough about the staff at Fisher,” Malak says. “Laurie Spadaro, director of the MBOE program, gave me such personalized attention. She took the time to get to know me, to understand what I wanted from my career, discovered what skillset I already possessed and helped me get to a point where I was 110% sure this was the graduate degree path I wanted to pursue.”  

“MBOE is all about developing yourself so that you can develop the people around you.”  

Malak Abdel-Hadi and husband
Malak and Ali, her husband.

Eight months into the program, and through hands-on projects that are having real, positive impact in the local community, Malak feels strongly that the program has already changed her.  

One such project involved working with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. “Their goal is to feed as many customers as possible,” says Malak. "I learned so much about the operations and behind the scenes work that goes into providing this service to the community.”  

Even though she hasn’t completed the program yet, Malak’s MBOE training is already making an impact in her current job. She has applied her new skills and knowledge to the off-boarding process at the Graduate Medical Education office.  

“During this last process, we were 100% compliant – that hasn’t happened in the last four years,” she says.  “The MBOE program has built up my confidence, shown me what true servant leadership looks like, and has taught me the grace of humble inquiry. I finally feel like I’ve discovered the degree program that enhances what I’m already good at. I know it’s where I belong.” 

Her advanced education is paying off in other ways too. Malak will start a new position at Safelite AutoGlass in October. Her new title? Process Improvement Specialist.  

“This is exactly what I want to do,” she says. “For the first time in my life, I’m going to be working in a job that requires the degree I’ve obtained.”   

Photos courtesy of Malak Abdel-Hadi

The MBOE program has built up my confidence, shown me what true servant leadership looks like, and has taught me the grace of humble inquiry. I finally feel like I’ve discovered the degree program that enhances what I’m already good at.

Malak Abdel-HadiStudent, Master of Business Operational Excellence