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Instilling Entrepreneurial Spirit

Arturo Minera

Jeni Al Bahrani, a current Ed.D. student in educational leadership at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) first caught the entrepreneurial bug while growing up in her dad’s store on the west side of Cincinnati. Watching him manage a small business instilled in her a level of business acumen that she’s carried her entire life. From her mother, she says she received a sense of grit and determination in the face of adversity. 

“She taught me how to be a hard worker as a woman,” Al Bahrani says. “Looking back, I was developing the skills I use today as a child.”

The moment that really cemented her passion for entrepreneurship, though, was a period of hardship in adulthood.

“I experienced a very traumatic divorce that left me with absolutely nothing to my name,” she says. “Coming out of those trenches and recovering from that, I wanted to find my own financial independence, and entrepreneurship is a pathway to doing that.”

She has founded a number of businesses since then, in fields like wellness and real estate, but the venture she is most proud of allowed her to help women launch their own entrepreneurial careers.

“A lot of these women wanted the same thing I did: some autonomy in having some of their own financial independence,” she says. “Do they have a passion for something like baking or the creator economy? I would help those women take their businesses to the next level and it just really started to grow.”

“Being in the program, it's amazing how each course connects to the other."

Today, Al Bahrani is able to inspire others on an even greater scale. In January 2023, she was named the inaugural director of Thomas More University’s Zembrodt Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where she hopes to foster an environment in which students across all disciplines can create value in northern Kentucky’s community through innovation and problem solving. Her studies at NKU are helping her hone her skills as the center’s leader.

She enrolled in NKU’s Ed.D. program shortly after accepting her directorial position, citing its cohort model, flexibility and hybrid learning as major influences on her decision.

“I'm a lifelong learner, and I wanted to pursue my education even more after my master’s,” she says. “Being in the program, it's amazing how each course connects to the other. I can tell that the department has been so intentional with how we can use the content the next day in our own professional careers.”

The most important lesson that she’s learned is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable—a mindset that she hopes to impart on the students she currently teaches.

“I always use a quote by Adam Grant,” she says. “‘Creatures of discomfort, embrace awkwardness at learning.’ What I want our students to take from Thomas More’s program is how they can create value in our community and society, staying in the northern Kentucky region whether they’re starting a business or creating value for companies as a graduate.”

Though her prior experience as a business owner has been invaluable in her current profession, she says that the Ed.D. program’s focus on research and theory has allowed her to take her passion for education to the next level.

“So everything that I'm enthusiastic about: education, community and being able to impact barriers to entrepreneurship, the program is teaching me how to do that from a research perspective,” Al Bahrani says. “That is something that's been missing from my professional journey.”

In addition to her recognition from NKU’s Women’s History Month committee, Al Bahrani was also recently nominated for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Women award.

“The community is really noticing what I am passionate about and the work that we're doing at both Thomas More and NKU,” she says. “I feel very honored.”

About This Article

March 2024

Written by
Jude Noel ('18)
Communications Specialist, NKU Magazine