When Carl Wunsche Sr. High School Class of 2021 graduate Zahra Rizvi first learned that she had been selected by the Huntsman Scholarship Program as one of its first-ever recipients from Spring ISD, she was excited for how the $20,000 scholarship would help her achieve her dream of becoming the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college.
What she didn’t realize at the time was that, in pursuing the scholarship, she was opening the door to other opportunities for her future, ones she could never have anticipated at the time.
“Both of my parents were born and raised in Pakistan,” Rizvi said. “My parents didn’t get to go to college, but education was always something they really put onto me, you know? They always told me they would support me in any direction I wanted to go with school and education.”
Rizvi grew up watching her father work hard to become a business owner, making sacrifices in order to build his own company and take care of his family. Her mother moved to the U.S. later – after completing high school – and watching how hard both her parents have worked to support and nurture their children over the years has made a big impression on their oldest daughter.
“He tells me different stories all the time about how he grew up,” Rizvi said of her father, “and it’s really interesting, because I’m the eldest child – my dad was the youngest – but it’s so crazy how similar we are in our work ethic.”
That family work ethic came in handy over the summer, after Rizvi was offered a full-time internship at the Huntsman Corporation headquarters in The Woodlands.
There, Rizvi – who had just completed her sophomore year studying finance and marketing at University of Houston – had the chance to put her skills to use in service of the company’s ongoing sustainability initiatives, under the leadership of Global Sustainability Director Jeff Morgheim. It was Morgheim who first encouraged Rizvi to look into internship opportunities at Huntsman, during a reception in 2022 for Spring ISD scholarship recipients hosted by company executives including Morgheim and CEO Peter R. Huntsman.
“My parents got to meet Jeff and Peter at the ceremony,” Rizvi said, “and from that day they loved Huntsman!”
Morgheim said that meeting Rizvi and her parents reminded him of his own experiences growing up in Alaska, where a crucial scholarship opportunity later opened the door to an internship that ultimately led to the first stop in his own successful career.
“My advice to students in the ISD’s is, you know, apply for scholarships, apply for internships,” said Morgheim, who is also active as a volunteer through Spring ISD’s Vine Mentoring Program. “There’s so many opportunities out there if you just look for that. And really do your homework. Find out what those scholarships are. Look for any opportunity that you can to get work experience in high school.”
For Rizvi, her experience working at Huntsman over the summer exceeded her expectations – and far surpassed that of some of her college friends who interned at other companies.
“I worked on two projects primarily, which at the end of my summer I actually got to present to the CEO, as well as many other executives and interns and employees at Huntsman,” Rizvi said. “It was very exciting, but of course I felt nervous, for sure!”
A graduate of Wunsche’s medical tower who once planned on earning a biochemistry degree and applying to medical school, Rizvi hadn’t previously considered working in a global chemicals and consumer and industrial products company like Huntsman. But the internship ended up being a perfect fit for her current academic focus in finance and marketing, as well as a chance to grow both personally and professionally.
Throughout her experience with Huntsman, Rizvi has been impressed with the company’s commitment to supporting the local community – including supporting students in nearby school districts through mentoring programs, scholarships, and other outreach efforts.
“With Huntsman,” Rizvi said, “what you see is actually what is real, if that makes sense. It’s very much a people place, a community. It’s not just corporate.”
One thing that stood out during her time over the summer were the conversations with many Huntsman employees and executives, who invariably said that it was an openness to new ideas, experiences, and opportunities – rather than sticking doggedly to a fixed plan or career goal – that had made the biggest positive difference in their lives.
“I don’t think I ever met someone who was like, ‘Yeah, I’m exactly where I thought I’d be when I made that 10-year plan when I was 20,’” Rizvi said.
In addition to Huntsman, Rizvi also acknowledged both the support of her teachers and college counselor at Wunsche and the lessons she learned as a member of the EMERGE Fellowship, which she joined at the end of her sophomore year. The Houston-based EMERGE nonprofit works in partnership with area districts to connect high-potential students from underserved communities with the opportunity to attend top colleges both regionally and around the country.
Rizvi reflected on the fact that children of immigrants – together with others whose families have faced challenges – have to accept that their story is unique, and that they have both the right and the ability to chart their own course, while at the same time honoring the sacrifices others have made to allow them to thrive.
“It can feel like the world is very small sometimes, but it’s not, and there’s just a lot of opportunities out there to explore that our parents maybe didn’t get to,” Rizvi said. “And knowing that, you should take that to your advantage, and do what your parents couldn’t. Because that’s what they would want for you.”